KARMA by Mitchell Smith


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For the first two-thirds of his new novel, Smith (Due North, 1992, etc.) can't decide whether he's writing a study of one man's Vietnam post-traumatic stress syndrome or a vulnerable-loner-fights-against-impossible-odds thriller. When he chooses (less pretentiously) the latter, the jettisoned baggage allows him a flashy sprint to the finish line. Evan Scott, an architect out of Groton and Yale who excels at polo and fencing, is standing atop a very wrong edifice one threatening Manhattan night when he sees a young woman fall from an unfinished Madison Avenue skyscraper across the street. Not too many days pass before be learns that: a) she didn't fall but was pushed; and b) his bruited presence has become a threat to those behind the pushing. Suddenly additional people are dropping dead, including co-worker/lover, Sanchia Fuentes. Frustratingly, no one in whom Scott confides believes the accumulating mishaps are anything more than coincidental. The skeptics include Scott's wife, Catherine (herself privileged and quite an upper-class bigot); his bosses, who suggest an immediate vacation; and the police, who think Scott's cries of wolf may be a cover-up for homicidal tendencies. Those who know Scott is speaking the truth are the three Hindu brothers who lend their name to Rao Electric, the firm doing the wiring for ill-fated 366 Madison. (They've been monkeying around on their highly recompensed job, though neither Evan nor the reader gets the details till the very end.) Only an aging newsstand owner named Ram Dass Lal takes Scott's side and, indeed, insists on helping bell the meanies in their lairs. Having found in the Raos a fresh twist on developers-as-'90s-villains, Smith gets the action moving from New York City to New Jersey to Maine with guns blazing, knives flashing, elevators soaring, guts spilling, blood spurting. On balance, good Karma.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1994
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Dutton