A OVENANT WITH DEATH by Stephen Becker
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The same luster and surface simplicity that characterized the early novels ames Gould Cozzens are Becker's hallmarks in fiction. Although his published body of work is much more diversified (including history, biography, translations) again like Cozzens, Becker's novels have not received the attention they deserve. This one is told in the first person by an elderly judge recounting the murder trial he conducted in 1923 when he was only 29 years old. He had been appointed to the bench by the Governor of his Southwestern state as a gesture to the memory of his late father. The women in his life--an earthy, memorably drawn mother and the two girls he wavers between--are quick to point out a lack of maturity and depth that he recognizes in himself. The tortuous route to judgment and justice provides his growing point. It comes in the trial of Bruce Talbot for the murder of his wanton and beautiful wife, Louise. Convicted, but not guilty, Talbot killed the hangman on his execution day and then claimed self-defense. A pretty problem in justice, forcing the judge to grow up to his role is captured in a penetrating, compact novel whose serious theme is given the measure of necessary comic relief.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1964
Publisher: theneum