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A reworking of Hamlet--with a final touch of Oedipus Rex--in a 1920s-Colorado setting. Brook Hartman, 21, is spending a coming-of-age week in Denver (drinking, wenching) when he gets word of a calamity back at the family ranch in the mountains: his father Aaron, out riding in the mountains with the ranch's men, got separated from the group during a storm. . . and hasn't been since, despite several search-parties. Aaron, everyone agrees, must have fallen off the perilous mountain cliff, horse and all. But Brook insists on some physical proof--partly because his mother Ruth seems to be so traumatized, not yet accepting Aaron's death. So, in a dangerous cliff-top manuever, Brook is lowered over the cliff by rope to get a glimpse of the unreachable bottom below; and he does see what might be the body of Aaron's horse. By now, however, Brook has become increasingly disturbed by inconsistencies in the riders' reports of Aaron's disappearance. He's also disturbed by the behavior of his beloved Uncle Caleb, a one-armed WW I vet who never quite got along with the more conservative Aaron: Caleb seems to have wasted no time in taking over at the ranch; likewise, he seems oddly cozy with his newly widowed sister-in-law. Moreover, Brook is encouraged to keep sleuthing by visiting family-friend Margaret, a minister's wife who--in some goopily written passages--becomes Brook's adulterous lover. (""She lifted her face to him, sobbing a soft wet litany of his name. . ."") Soon, then, after another futile search for Aaron's body at the cliff-bottom, Brook is figuring out exactly how his father was really killed. Now paraphrasing Shakespeare, he berates mother Ruth for her un-widow-like behavior: ""Hell, I don't know what suit to lay out first, the black pin stripe for Papa's funeral or the white flannel for your wedding."" And finally, after Aaron's bullet-holed body is found, there's a duel-to-the-death, mountain style. . .plus a last-page revelation to add some heavy, Greek-tragic irony. Dieter, for the most part, writes with sturdy simplicity here, avoiding the artsy portentousness that marred both The White Land and Hunter's Orange. But, though the action-sequences are effective, Brook remains an unengaging, blank-faced hero on an all-too-obvious trail--while readers alert to the Hamlet parallels are likely to be more irritated than impressed.

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum