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Twenty years after someone killed William Knight and kidnapped William's eight-year-old grandson Richard, Baron Alexander von Reisden reluctantly agrees to impersonate Richard in order to solve the mystery of what happened back in 1887. Reisden, still mourning the death of his wife in a car he was driving, is lured away from his biological research when he's taken for Richard by Knight family physician Charles Adair, concerned bemuse Richard's uncle Gilbert, neurotically unwilling to declare Richard dead, is thereby preventing the family fortune from passing through him to his callow adopted son Harry, who's engaged to promising blind pianist Perdita Halley. But Reisden doesn't agree to pass himself off as Richard in order to jolt Gilbert into action; he merely enters Gilbert's household insisting he's not Richard and lets him think whatever he likes. As Reisden puzzles over the old mystery--was William really shot by his illegitimate son Jay French, as Charlie Adair testified, or was Charlie too far away to see who pulled the trigger?--and finds himself falling in love with Perdita, new mysteries multiply: Is the skeleton found in the barn evidence of Richard's murder, or of Jay's? Did Charlie really kill Jay himself? Is Reisden actually Richard after all? The news that William regularly beat his grandson paves the way for a solution to some of these riddles, but others are still floating unresolved at the final John Fowles-ish curtain. Smith (the computer-readable King of Space, plus academic nonfiction) paints a canvas reminiscent of Robert Goddard's well-upholstered period thrillers, though more tonily inconclusive at every stage.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0345418050
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Ballantine