In Young Hart (1983) Harding convincingly explored the conflicts within a male-dominated Italian/American family; here, in another tale of family secrets, he again captures the feel of tense New Jersey living-rooms (where the TV is always on)--but the romance at the center of this tangled novel is weak and wavering, fatally unpersuasive. Phil Trent has been drifting for three years, a dropout from Princeton ever since the death of his father Henry. Now, returning home for a grey, sleety New Jersey Christmas, Phil wanders into his father's old haunts, then arrives at the family house--expecting mother Julie to be away in Florida. Not only is Julie there, however; she's there with her lover Ed (strong handshake, dirty fingernails). And, in defending herself to Phil, Julie tells him that Henry ""was no saint. . .your father had another woman."" So, driven by fear and need to find the truth about his father, Phil searches out the alleged mistress: Louise Davis, owner of an old mill that's now been converted into a restaurant/nightclub. Their meeting is electric with fascination and distrust--while Louise states flatly that she never slept with Henry. There is a strong Henry/Louise connection, however, as revealed by Louise's grandmother ""Nonna Do"": Louise's grandfather, an Italian-immigrant entrepreneur, fostered Henry's business career. And, as Phil's love for Louise supposedly grows, he's drawn into the thorny maze of her financial troubles--unearthing a nasty web of fraud and betrayal from the two family-histories, coming into conflict with his scheming Uncle Chuck (Henry's younger brother/partner). These confrontations between Phil and Chuck--ruthless, toe-to-toe, no holds barred--are grisly and credible. The flat, small-city atmosphere also rings true. But Harding's women all miss the mark: Nonna Do is a sentimental stereotype; Julie is dimly sketched; the centrally placed Louise is no more than an efficient talking head. So this is a highly uneven effort from a talented novelist, going astray whenever romantic or feminine motivations are meant to fuel the elaborate plot.