190 pages. $19.95.
In this exploration of the interface between the truly crazy anmorally reprehensible, the setting itself is skewed. It's an apartment house in Manhattan, built in the form of a structural sliver; it's also the scene of a suicide, a decapitation and a death by drug overdose.
The owner of the building is a young voyeur who has tapped all the phones and installed video cameras in the ceilings of living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. His full-time hobby is watching, on his bank of monitors, the slice-of-life drama in the different apartments. He pays special attention to tenants who remind him of his mother; he also tapes certain events in which he's got a personal interest, like the murders and the sex scenes in which he appears.
Ira Levin's spare, elliptical prose creates a dimension of dizziness, as if it's all moving too quickly for the mind to process. But there's also something disturbingly un-bookish about it; the staccato, action-verb sentences move like the directions for a TV movie.
It ends like a TV movie, too: The visuals bring you to the edge of your seat, while the logic utterly fails.
When novelist Beryl Madison is found slashed to death in heposh, well-secured home, Virginia's chief medical examiner, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, is faced with a nagging question. Since Beryl had been receiving death threats, why did she turn off her burglar alarm and open the door to her attacker?
That question is ingeniously answered in "Body of Evidence," Ms. Cornwell's second Scarpetta mystery. As Dr. Scarpetta and her friend, Lt. Pete Marino, investigate the murder, they discover that Beryl had been working on an autobiography filled with juicy revelations about her mentor, a reclusive, J. D. Salinger-like author named Cary Harper. But the manuscript is nowhere to be found, and Beryl's publicity-seeking lawyer is placing the blame on Dr. Scarpetta.
"Body of Evidence" is jam-packed with subplots, motives and red herrings, but Ms. Cornwell handles it all with such finesse that the book never seems overloaded. The only misstep is Dr. Scarpetta's trite romance with an old flame. Still, this is a splendid thriller with a dynamic, likable heroine.
SO DEAR TO MY HEART.
225 pages. $17.95.
Jane Goyer was born in 1894 in Worcester, Mass., and hahas spent her adult life in Worcester writing newspaper and magazine articles. "So Dear to My Heart" is a compilation of 38 essays. While the topics are varied, Ms. Goyer's main thrust centers around living in an America during a simpler era than in today's fast-paced society.
Most pieces take place in the early part of this century -- a Christmas pageant Ms. Goyer appeared in when she was 10, a fight with her husband on Valentine's Day 1916, etc. Only rarely does she venture opinions about life in the latter part of the century -- and then it is to grouse about such things as microwave ovens or "entertainment centers."
I took away an uneasy feeling that Ms. Goyer was a very nice
woman who has had an insulated existence. While she did write about how difficult things were when her father had rheumatic fever, Ms. Goyer shows no interest in the changes our society has undergone. The essays are affable, but there is a sameness to the tone and topics that makes the sum something less than the parts -- a lot less.