THE CAPTAIN by Seymour Shubin


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The Captain"" is retired police-detective chief Walter Hughes--who, a widower at 76, has been put in the Linwood Convalescent Home by his rotten children: though the Captain is far from senile (""I don't piss myself, I don't crap myself, I can read, I can bear, I can talk""), he's too much trouble for the family to bear. Unsurprisingly, then, the Captain is depressed and angry. The Captain's anger, however, quickly gets out of hand: he begins sneaking out of his nursing-home room to murder people who have been (in his opinion) abusive towards the elderly--a nurse, an evicting landlord, a greedy daughter who some years ago had her old father declared incompetent. So, while the Captain continues to try to get out of the home permanently (with help from an old ex-con pal), the police investigate the strangely linked killings. And eventually the Captain, increasingly lost in a half-fantasy world of his memories, stalks a callous Linwood doctor (who's having an affair with a well-meaning nurse)--but is stopped before he can kill yet again. (The cop who pulls the trigger is told by his colleague: ""You did him a favor. . . . Do it for me some day."") Shubin, author some decades ago of Anyone's My Name and Wellville, U.S.A., does a somewhat maudlin yet fairly convincing and thoroughly depressing job of sketching in the pitiful nursing-home milieu--with most of the misery supplied by the patients' situations (foul children, genuine senility and illness) rather than by professional cruelty or incompetence. And a few of the elderly character-vignettes ring sadly true. But the Captain himself is a dubious blend of madman, King Lear, and Charles Bronson--and the crudely melodramatic mass-murder plot finally seems a cheap, overstated response to the complex, serious problem of care for the elderly.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1982
Publisher: Stein & Day