MYSTERY by Peter Straub
Kirkus Star


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After failing in Floating Dragon and Shadowland to match the consummate horrors of Ghost Story, Straub switched genres to punch out a bright mess of a thriller in 1987's Koko. Here's another switch--and another honorable semifailure--as he attempts to recapitulate the history of the mystery novel via the elegant, languid, drawn-out story of a boy and his encounter with a Great Detective and a Great Crime. Tom Pasmore, scion of one of the richest families on the Caribbean island of Mill Walk, is the boy who--in a nightmare-vivid opening that proves the novel's zenith--is hit by a car and has a profound near-death experience. Hospitalized, Tom is visited by a neighbor who gives him books by Conan Doyle and Poe--and who thus steers Tom into a teen-long obsession with detection. Seven years later, amateur p.i. Tom, looking into a local killing, re-meets that neighbor: he's Lamont von Heilitz, ""The Shadow,"" once a world-famous detective, now a recluse, a dandy who has worked as much by intuition as by deduction. Taking him under his wing, Lamont trains Tom, then instructs him to dig into possible crime and corruption--particularly, an ancient murder--within Mill Walk's tangled social circles while summering at an exclusive resort habituated by the rich of Mill Walk. There, Tom steals away the beautiful girlfriend of the scion of the all-powerful Redwing family; alienates that family (much Straubian tracing of social mores here) by that act and by his nosing around; and is shot at, then nearly killed in an arson. Who's the culprit? Someone close to Tom--confronted, after a twist of fate and a tragic death that force Tom into instant maturity, in a bloody climax set in the Boschean slums of Mill Walk. An ambitious homage, sluggishly engaging but no classic: the complex intrigue suffocates suspense and emotional power, and Lamont's no Holmes--or even Miss Marple.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1989
ISBN: 0307472221
Publisher: Dutton