THE LION AT THE DOOR by Newton Thornburg


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Veteran melodramatist Thornburg attained a commercial and critical peak in the mid-70's with To Die in California and Cutter and Bone (Filmed as Cutter's Way), then slipped until he hit book-bottom with the wretched incest-themed potboiling of Beautiful Kate (1982). Now he's back--with a routine crime drama (regular guy vs. mobster) that's nearly as creaky and contrived as his worst. Thornburg opens strong, with burly, bighearted Tom Kohl watching in horror as his drunk cousin Ken hit-and-runs a pedestrian who--in the first of many unlikely plot hooks that drag the story along--turns out to be brother to Tony Jack Giacolone, top Seattle mobster. Terrified of prison, Ken convinces Tom to help cover up the crime; while ditching Ken's car, Tom is spotted by ""Bobbi with an i,"" a goofy cocktail-waitress who picks him up and beds him--and then rats on him and Ken to her creepy boyfriend, Rusty. Rusty blackmails Ken for $10,000, paid by Ken's upscale girlfriend, Diane; but when Tom loses his temper and beats up Rusty during the payoff, Rusty tattles to Tony Jack. Meanwhile, domestic passions cook at the Ken/Diane household as Ken begins to run with Bobbi while long-simmering lust between Tom and Diane boils into hot sex--a predictable interlude that shuts down after Ken is kidnapped and beaten to death (off-page) by Tony Jack. A stalwart sort, Tom vows to get even, leading to: Tony Jack ordering the demolition of Diane's boat, with Tom and Bobbi on it; Tom strangling one of Tony Jack's goons, underwater; Tom snatching Tony Jack's other brother, who dies when he swerves his car into a truck; Tom beating up Tony Jack so bad that the mobster slinks away forever. Flatly told, and stuffed with mostly stale characters and situations: like dehydrated Elmore Leonard, with all the juice missing.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1990
Publisher: Morrow