INNOCENT BYSTANDERS by Sandra Scoppettone


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The 25-year aftermath of a psychopathic killing: moderately gripping in the opening melodrama, steadily less involving (and increasingly farfetched) thereafter. In 1955 Danielle Swan--unhappy wife of psychiatrist Martin, devoted mother of little Cristina, and Claude, loving big sister (though a secret adoptee) of high-school senior Guy--is shot down in the street by a strange woman. And, while the family goes into shock (especially Danielle's elegant parents) and cop Zo Campisi obsessively sleuths, Scoppetone lets the reader in on the murderer's identity: she's crazy Hedy, victim of an oppressive father and an incestuous rapist/brother; she's also a sexually fixated ex-patient of Dr. Martin Swan, to whom she confesses! But though Swan is innocent of complicity in the murder, he feels guilty (because of an affair), so he keeps Hedy's secret, pretends to father her baby (actually her brother's incest-child), and pays blackmail. Jump, then to 1965: the case is still officially unsolved, though Zo knows (thanks to a psychic assist) that Hedy is guilty; Danielle's daughter Cristina, an eyewitness to the murder, is haunted by a clue that might implicate her father (now remarried); she falls in forbidden love at first sight with her Uncle Guy, now unhappily wed; Hedy's bizarre daughter Value is growing up believing that she's Dr. Swan's daughter. And, in the 1970s, Cristina will finally give her worrisome clue to Zo (she and Guy become sinful lovers, then discover they're not blood-related); Claude will be a suicide; Zo will close in on Dr. Swan; and Value will go bananas--coming after both her fake-father and her real-father with inherited murder-mania. As in previous novels, Scoppettone shows a strong talent for psycho-melodrama--sketching in obsessions and madness with creepy (if often crude) energy. This time, however, with virtually everyone in the large cast a psychopathological case (even Zo is haunted by his father's transvestite suicide), there's a lack of focus and control; and the corny secret-adoption/incest-romance subplot certainly doesn't help. Still, many readers will be hooked by the solid first 100 pages--and some will stick around even as matters get murky, lurid, and awfully implausible.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1982
Publisher: New American Library