THE GYPSY MAN by Ronald Florence


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In 1966 beautiful lawyer Jill Ashton is in Provence on business when she meets a 45-ish, dark-eyed stranger in a cafe, ""the most sensuously appealing man she had ever seen."" A few days later that man, a gypsy named Ral Bendit, is arrested for the roadside murder of a middle-aged woman--eventually identified as Wanda Lanzer, a scholar of gypsy culture from Amsterdam. Did Ral really kill her? If so, why? The accused himself refuses to say a word, waiting to have his say in an open courtroom. But Jill, convinced of Ral's basic decency, persuades a French lover/colleague to handle Ral's defense, with Jill as unofficial aide--as flashbacks slowly fill in the background to the murder. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that, 25 years before, young Ral was among the thousands of gypsies rounded up into Nazi concentration-camps--while Wanda Lanzer (a.k.a. Eva Ritter) was an expert on gypsy culture who worked in the camps as a largely benevolent researcher/adviser. Eventually, as Jill digs into the past and Florence offers more flashbacks from the 1941-1965 lives of Ral and Eva Ritter, the full explanation for Ral's obsessive vengeance-quest is detailed: because Ritter tried to save only her beloved gypsies, Ral's non-gypsy bride (a Montenegrin) was raped and killed; moreover, against her will, Ritter later cooperated in the extermination of gypsies as well. (""We trusted her. We loved her. And then she betrayed us. For that, she deserved to die."") And finally there's a Perry Mason-esque twist at Ral's murder-trial. . . with Ral's gypsy ethnic-pride leading Jill to rediscover her own Jewish roots. Some readers, especially those for whom the gypsy angle on the Holocaust is a ""forgotten or maybe unknown episode of history,"" may be mildly absorbed by this earnest, often preachy, sturdily atmospheric drama. Most others, however, will find themselves always a few steps ahead of Florence's slow, talky, repetitious narration--especially since the basic plot here (post-Holocaust vengeance, the courtroom as a platform for the publicizing of atrocities) has been used many times before, to more compelling effect.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0595150845
Publisher: Villard/Random House