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In his early 60s, Ben Morrison would appear to have it all: good health, enough wealth, a loving if somewhat preoccupied wife, and relationships with his children that could rival what we see on the Cosby show. So what's his problem? Where's the angst to keep his story going for 200 pages? Well, his mother, in-law, who has been the pillar of the family, is frail and ailing, but she's 85, has lived a full life, and is now dying gracefully, at home, not in pain. Then there is the fact that Ben has recently sold his business and cannot get used to the prospect of idle time, but this is handily resolved by the offer of a challenging new job that he can start in a few months. So, it seems almost by default that Ben sets his nervous energy to the task of sorting out problems for his daughter, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Carl. Carl has applied for a government fellowship that might help to stabilize his employment situation and ease tensions with Sarah, who wants some permanence in her life. When it appears that an F.B.I. check into Carl's background might turn up damaging evidence about his days as a student radical and jeopardize the fellowship, Ben goes to work, interviewing Carl's old associates, driving across the state to follow small leads, trying, without success, to stay one step ahead of the Feds. For a while, Engel (Fish, 1981, etc.) holds us in this web of minor intrigue, and his writing has a texture that commands our attention. But, finally, the prose is weightier than the story. In his land of plenty, Ben seems not so much a sleuth as a busybody. And, although we know how loving his family is, it strains credulity that no one ever tells him to just butt out.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf