A lonely morgue photographer's fixation on a late client unleashes madness and violence. But not before Evans (The Last Girl, 1996) takes the time to turn the temperature down well below zero in Stewart Park's little world. Stewart isn't just your ordinary morgue attendant; physically ugly and cursed with a crippling stutter, he'd be a social outcast even if he worked on a movie set. When he goes home from his cheerless workplace, it's to cross swords with his sister Mary (who talks to him only to say she's leaving her two little boys with him again), with his senile father (who seems to live for the moment when Stewart will absent-mindedly leave his bedroom door unlocked so he can sneak inside and paw through Stewart's things), orin the happiest moments of his pitiful lifeto play the computer-game nemesis called Dustraiser. The best-adjusted attendant at the morgue abruptly gets sacked; Mary, who's taken up with a new man who leaves her and the boys bruised, refuses to leave Lee and Lenny alone with her father; Stewart, who's been invited to his mate's engagement party only so he can photograph the happy couple, never thinks to bring his camera. Into this quietly hellish orbitthink of Polanski's film Repulsionspins an unknown dead woman whose face haunts Stewart so powerfully that he takes the photograph of her home so it'll be the first thing he sees each morning and the last thing before sleep each night. The mood is already so grim that it's clear this latest obsession can lead to no good, yet Evans patiently piles on the menace until Stewart finds himself in the middle of a criminal plot that, oddly enough, seems less scarifying than the bleakly and believably normal existence it interrupts. ``There's nothing like words for separating the living and the dead,'' opines Stewart. Maybe, but meanwhile Evans uses every word of her novel to immerse its mousy hero more deeply into his death-in-life.