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Taking a holiday from his appealing, erratic Charles Paris mystery-series (So Much Blood, Situation Tragedy, etc.), British writer Brett now offers a crisp, chilly tale of murder from the murderer's point of view: a faintly black-comic, mildly psychosexual variation within the genre pioneered by Francis Iles (Malice Aforethought, 1931) and others. Graham Marshall, 41, husband and father, rising exec at a London-based oil conglomerate, has always played by the rules, pushed (ever since childhood) to climb the conventional ladders to middle-class success. Then, however, Graham falls to get an expected promotion, losing out to younger, brasher Robert Benham. And, on his drunken, angry way home that night, he lashes out at an old, begging bum--killing him (half-accidentally), dumping the body into the Thames. Graham's reaction? At first he's numb, nervous, afraid. But soon, when it's clear that he's gotten away with murder, Graham begins to feel smug, powerful, and promptly comes up with a plan to murder his irritating wife Merrily--booby-trapping an electric switch, collecting some much-needed life insurance money. (""He tried to keep the bounce out of his step as he walked from the hearse to the crematorium chapel."") And more murders will quickly follow, of course--a boating booby-trap for rival Robert, a faked suicide to dispose of a possible witness--before Graham will be caught. . . but for the one homicide he didn't actually commit. This ironic twist-ending--involving the revenge-scheme of Graham's manic mother-in-law--is awfully contrived. (It will also come as no surprise to readers familiar with Brett's book/film precursors: Strangers on a Train and Kind Hearts and Coronets come especially to mind.) And the clinical portrait of creepy Graham--a cold monster, sexually aroused only by killing--is too sketchy to be convincing. Still, if less credible than the best psycho-crime (e.g., vintage Ruth Rendell) and a bit too unpleasant to be steadily engaging, this is fast, fairly clever, cheerfully derivative crime-entertainment--extra-dry in its humor, ever so restrained in its melodrama.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: Scribners