DAMASCUS by Richard Beard


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Some Chinese puzzles are so exquisitely put together that one quite forgets that the object is finally to take them apart. This second novel by Beard (X20, 1997) is one such. November 1, 1993. Everything here takes place on November 1, 1993, from six in the morning until five in the afternoon. In that day’s issue of The Times of London, you will find announced the deaths of River Phoenix and Federico Fellini. That’s also the first day of the European Union. On that day Hazel Burns is born. So is Spencer Kelly. Hazel’s father is a well-to-do salesman; Spencer’s father is a working-class warehouseman. On November 1, 1993, Hazel Burns has just spent the night with Spencer Kelly at Spencer’s stately home. They are both 24. Behind the mansion is a smaller cottage where William Welsby lives. William is convinced that the unification of Europe will be England’s downfall. Spencer looks after William. On November 1, 1993, Spencer Kelly and Hazel Burns are on holiday with their families. They spend the day at the seashore. Henry Mitsui is a Japanese student living in England. He’s fallen in love with Hazel Burns, and on November 1, 1993, he stalks and confronts her in her college dormitory. Hazel has just been on the phone with Spencer Kelly, who has discovered a way to make free long- distance calls to Hazel. The police have been trying to catch Spencer for some time, but today he eludes them once more. It is November 1, 1993, and he has to go to his brother’s wedding. Are these all the same Spencers and Hazels? Are these all the same November 1, 1993s? How many stories are here? The best clue is in the Prologue: “A newspaper is a parcel containing many individual packets. Anybody who read them all would be mad.” Too clever by half, but witty and refreshing for most of the way. If you—re not into puzzles, though, you—d best steer clear.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55970-460-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999


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