DAGGERMAN by Richard H. Francis


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Daggerman"" is a homicidal maniac terrorizing a north-of-England town--and the first half of this very British (grisly but flip) suspense is mostly devoted to an attempt to get inside Daggerman's churning psyche. He's really a manager-clerk named Turner who's been a bit off ever since being sliced in the noggin by a power mower at age 13; in the Army he blithely killed an officer who was tormenting him; and now, having been fired from his job by the crooked upstart who has also cuckolded him, Turner has gone totally whacko--he hides out, kills his landlady, makes himself a ""Daggerman"" suit, and sets out to convert the world, via murder, to the ""Third Alternative"" (a ""form of space travel"" that's somehow wrapped up in sex, religion, and snow). All this is fairly diverting but not terribly convincing (compared, say, with the portrait of a madman in Golding's Darkness Visible). The best moments here, in fact, come when Daggerman is offstage: Francis does a dandy job sketching in the lives of Daggerman's victims and nearvictims, especially a spunky old gal (her son is the local cop on the Daggerman case) and a bored librarian (her new boyfriend is a repressed police mortician). And though things become rather contrived and contorted towards the end (local hoodlums and prostitutes become involved, the wrong man is nabbed), there's a conventional last-second-rescue finale and happy ending. All in all, an odd hybrid--psychopathology, suspense, small-town satire--that's more quirky than scary; but it introduces a sprightly stylist (somewhat reminiscent of Peter Dickinson) who may be capable of far more satisfying stories than this intermittently intriguing one.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1980
Publisher: Pantheon