SHADOW OF CAIN by Vincent & Ken Hurwitz Bugliosi


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This uneven but always-readable thriller starts out as a message-novel about parole for convicted mass-murderers, then shifts to somewhat fanciful psycho-suspense, winds up as a longwinded courtroom drama, and fades out with a bit of a fizzle. The mass-murderer is Ray Lomak, who, at 19, shot six people (mostly young rich kids he envied) and went to prison for 21 years. But now Ray, supposedly born-again and rehabilitated (the nature of his craziness is never well-defined), is out on highly-publicized parole--and the authors do a solid, gritty job with Ray's difficulties in finding accommodation, privacy, and work. (At one point he writes a letter to the President, suggesting government-sponsored employment for new ex-cons.) Then, however, when Ray reluctantly agrees to speak at a born-again convocation, he acquires a patron--tycoon Tex Harnett, former star of movie westerns; and the novel slides into less realistic territory as Ray moves onto Harnett's ranch, persuades Harnett to divert millions into a foundation, begins to feel acceptance and power, and becomes less cooperative in sessions with youngish Dr. Richard Pomerantz, his parole-board-appointed psychiatrist. Meanwhile, too, Ray works at alienating Harnett from son Dean (who'll try' to have Harnett declared incompetent) while Pomerantz falls for Harnett's daughter Jenny. Thus, when Pomerantz, genuinely disturbed by Ray's behavior, recommends reexamination of the parole, the maniac strikes again: Dean and Jenny are electrocuted in the family pool. But, in a rather detail-clogged trial sequence (Bugliosi is the D.A. of Helter Skelter and Till Death Us Do Part), Ray is acquitted. . . so finally there's a strangely disappointing duel-to-the-death between lethal Ray and vengeful, grieving Pomerantz. Far too many melodramatic, implausible moments to work as an indictment of the parole system--and the writing occasionally lapses into amateurishness, especially when Pomerantz is waxing emotional. But, even with the sketchy psycho-portrait of Ray as a shaky center, there's a modicum of steady suspense here--delivered in good, plain, non-lurid, often-chilling style.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1981
Publisher: Norton