Nothing goes right for Martin Deeford. Even though his sister Ivy has moved him away from the neighboring Australian town where he’d been placed in a home after a bout of uncontrollable violence and has changed their family name to protect him, trouble keeps following. When Mart picks up Rose Gault and takes her to a nearby reserve looking for conversation instead of sex, and it turns out she doesn’t want to hear about his silly ideas, he chokes her and dumps her body into a lake. And then, like magic, he’s seen by Rachel Penghill, a jewelry designer who’s taken her niece Ann for an outing in the reserve. Further unpleasant surprises are in store for Mart, but Carlon is less interested in his sad fate than in his determination to track Rachel down and shut her up for good. The ensuing damsel-in-distress scenario, first published in Australia in 1965, turns on two novel points: the vulnerability of Rachel, whose spinsterish place in the cosmos is so marginal that she could vanish without anyone noticing, and the uncanny power of even an ineffectual killer like Mart, aided by cruelly whimsical circumstances, to wreak havoc on Rachel’s life.
Not as suffocatingly suspenseful as The Price of an Orphan (1999), with its similarly threatened victim, but still a model of proficiency—as if it were Carlon’s essay answer to an exam question about how to put the screws to an innocent without falling back on the bogeyman cliché.