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THE NEW CITY by Stephen Amidon

THE NEW CITY

By Stephen Amidon

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 2000
ISBN: 0-385-49762-8
Publisher: Doubleday

This ambitious, tightly plotted urban melodrama—a bold entry into Richard Price territory—is a real surprise, coming from the former American expatriate and author of such terse, claustrophobic novels as Thirst (1993) and The Primitive (1995). Amidon’s engrossing story is set in 1973 in Newton, Maryland, a “planned city” designed as a safe alternative to crime-infested and racially tense major eastern metropoli. Two longtime friends are major figures in the forging of Newton’s hopeful future: white attorney and “problem solver” Austin Swope; and black construction-company owner Earl Wooten. Ominous cracks begin appearing in the city’s placid facade: A brawl at the local Teen Center has caused extensive damage to property and Newton’s superego; fish are found floating dead in a man-made lake; quaint streetside gaslights are inexplicably exploding. Other crises quickly develop. When Wooten is called to Chicago by the city builders’ parent organization, Swope concludes that his old friend is being offered the post of city manager he had assumed would be his. Thus is Swope motivated to hire wounded Vietnam vet John Truax as a “confidential security consultant” assigned to monitor Earl’s movements and to profit from the conflict precipitated by the relationship between Wooten’s handsome son Joel and Truax’s beautiful (and white) daughter Susan. Truax, also, will be manipulated by the novel’s most interesting character, Swope’s brilliant, headstrong son Teddy, who is, in spite of himself, both Joel’s most devoted friend and his worst enemy. The ironies multiply as this solidly researched and deftly handled story plunges toward its dark conclusion: a “resolution” that echoes—convincingly—both Shakespeare’s Othello and Jim Thompson’s cruelly twisted tales of harsh retribution. Perhaps, like Newton itself, a tad too carefully planned to be real. But Amidon’s thriller will hold readers in its grip straight through to the powerful final page—and ought to make a crackerjack movie or miniseries too.