THE CLAW by Norah Lofts


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Best known in America for historical novels with occult trimmings, Lofts is also a solid, flinty crime writer--and some of her readers may be surprised by the almost Ruth-Rendell-ish starkness of this rape/murder case history. There is one occult touch here, tantalizingly understated: Greg Anderson, a nice young accountant/husband/father in the Suffolk village of Hillchester, secretly becomes the ""Hillchester Terror"" . . . after being miraculously revived from apparent death (a head injury) by his witchy, Caribbean-born mother-in-law. But, except for the fact that Greg is then obviously Possessed by something-or-other, the supernatural is never mentioned again--as Lofts quite impassively records the Terror's crimes, moving from one viewpoint to another: the victims; the police on the case; Anderson's wife Mary, who only very slowly begins to suspect that all is not right with Greg; and Greg himself, rather cheerfully leading his double life as family man by day and masked Terror by night. Rape victim #1 is schoolmistress Marcia Lowe--a 50-ish virgin and repressed lesbian who's remarkably un flustered by the bedroom assault (""A slight pain and then indescribable pleasure""). Victim #2, however, is not only raped but ripped (a claw-like attack) . . . and is driven insane. So it goes, with wildly various responses by the rape victims, until victim #6--over-protected teenager Lorraine Selsey--becomes the first Terror fatality after slipping out one night to go to a disco-dance. And though the police do finally identify Greg as the claw-killer, capturing him (detailed, believable detection), it's Lorraine's maniacally vengeful father who'll put the Terror to rest . . . before committing suicide himself. Grim stuff indeed--but Lofts never sensationalizes the gore or the madness, concentrating instead on ironic, low-key character vignettes along the way. And while there's neither taut suspense nor serious psychological insight here, the juxtaposition of wild crimes and matter-of-fact village types is oddly engaging: a dark, almost black-comic mosaic overall, but more for the Millar/Highsmith/Rendell readership than for Lofts regulars.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday