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by Tim Binding

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-48412-7
Publisher: Doubleday

British novelist Binding (In The Kingdom Of Air, 1994) continues to plumb the dark recesses of jolly old England, but the narrative links are stretched to the limit in this tale of a hangman's knotted existence within interlocking love triangles. Feared executioner Solomon Straw has retired as the story begins, leaving his ropes and his ``stage'' name behind to find peace as a country pub owner with his wife Judith and their infant son. The long tangle of events preceding his return to normalcy and his given name, Jeremiah (Jem) Bembo, however, ranges far from tranquility. Raised with his cousin Will in a family of farmers descended from a famous actor, Jem is ever reserved, while Will yearns for the glitter and patter of the music hall; when the two vie for the affections of young Judith, her choice of the more solid Jem proves a bone of contention for decades. The war changes everything, as a German air raid brings a plane down on the Bembo greenhouses, destroying them and burying a piece of flying glass in newlywed Jem's eye. He watches with crippled vision as his neighbors slowly murder the badly wounded German pilot. Shocked by such brutality, Jem vows to become the most decent and efficient of executioners, even at the cost of his feelings for Judith. But years later, when Dancing Danny steps onto the scaffold for killing a rival in the hopeless pursuit of a local girl, Jem errs in his meticulous procedure, shaken in part by having delivered his firstborn himself only two days before. Then he learns to his horror not only that he has executed an innocent man, but also that the echoes of his earlier rivalry have taken deadly shape in this more recent affair. In its tricky details in the binding up of several hugely different lives, this is a macabre, compelling story, proving powerful in spite of its convolutions and excess.