LAST RITES by Paul Spike


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Murder and mayhem in a desert town--as Spike (author of the foolish but somewhat entertaining The Night Letter) constructs an all-plot thriller mostly out of annoying red herrings. Millionaire Aaron Anderson is the 27th victim in a murder wave sweeping the small Southwestern border town of El Sol, ""the most isolated city in America."" And--like everyone else here--narrator Fernando O'Neal, an alcoholic Episcopal priest (part Puerto Rican, part Irish) wonders if the murders are the result of a problem with El SOPs hot springs water: the water's usual high lithium content has vanished, so without lithium's therapeutic effect local crazies seem to be going berserk. But other theories arise after Anderson (who befriended Fernando and left the church $4 million in his will) is buried: Aaron's mistress, exotic dancer Maria ""La Munequita"" (a.k.a. Doll), makes an embarrassing appearance at the funeral and then the gravedigger is found murdered on the fresh grave, his heart nearly torn out! So what's going on here? Is this ghastly crime wave and shower of mailed death threats all part of a bid by the criminal Mexican element in rival city Gomez to take over El Sol's drug and car-theft rackets? Or is the violence connected with Joe Moore, a local man who made millions developing real estate in California, then returned to develop El Sol, and now wants to ram through some housing amendments in the upcoming election? Or is it just that Professor David Snow, retired local Aztec historian, is missing his lithium and going flaky with sacrificial bloodlust? And why is someone tampering with Fernando's gas accelerator? Is it tied in with the Pointer Report's indication that the water table can't stand land development? Lots of false leads, all without satisfactory final explanation: restless but ultimately boring suspense in the conspiracy-tangle mode.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1981
Publisher: New American Library