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Another ""historical novel of murder"" from the author of The Thomas Street Horror (1982) and The Tragedy of Tiverton (1983)--again featuring mid-19th-century Manhattan lawyer Quinncannon, again narrated by a young Quinncannon protÉgÉ, again offering too much motley padding and too little richness of historical-crime atmosphere (despite a fact-based plot). Toby Brendon, an orphan from Virginia, arrives in N.Y. to begin a law career--and to learn, if possible, the identity of his natural father. Assigned to represent Mrs. Demis Hubbard in a divorce suit, handsome Brendon is instantly smitten--and Instantly jealous of Denis' cousin, dentist Harvey Burdell, whose attentions to Demis are more than cousinly. And Dr. Burdell invites Demis to take up residence on Broad St.--even though the household already contains the volatile Mrs. Emma Cunningham, a buxom widow who may be the dentist's longtime mistress. . .and definitely intends to be his wife, even if it takes coercion and/or a lawsuit. Eventually, then, after a meandering, 175-page buildup, Dr. B. is savagely murdered; Mrs. Cunningham is charged, along with her latest lover; Quinncannon (a bland presence this time) and Brendon (who has discovered that dead Dr. B. was his father!) take on the defense. And the very spotty courtroom drama touches on a variety of issues: whether Mrs. Cunningham was legally married to the dentist; whether she perhaps killed her last husband; whether her daughters are lying about an alibi; whether medical expertise was involved in the knifing; etc. The weakest of Paul's three hard-working attempts at blending tree-crime reconstruction with ribald, sentimental period-fiction--thanks to an uninteresting central mystery, a limp grab-bag of uncoordinated subplots, and a stubbornly unengaging narrator-hero.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1987
Publisher: Norton