Goddard's 'Hand in Glove' a gripping tale of deceit

January 28, 1993|By Susan Hall-Balduf | Susan Hall-Balduf,Knight-Ridder News Service

For 50 years, Beatrix Abberley guarded the papers, literary rights and reputation of her brother, the poet Tristram Abberley, who died fighting Franco during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

When she is found dead after an apparent break-in, no one suspects it might have anything to do with Tristram. But this is Robert Goddard's "Hand in Glove," and the one trick the novelist always has up his sleeve is deceit.

The accused burglar, a small-time dealer in antiques who has a prison record, insists he was framed. He had been called to the Abberley house to appraise a cabinet full of wooden collectibles. The old lady threw him out. The next thing he knew, the collectibles were sitting on a table in his storeroom.

He may be a thief but he's not stupid, he says, and he persuades his straight, awfully nice brother, Derek Fairfax, to look at things the other way round. Maybe someone stole the wooden trinkets to cover the murder.

Meanwhile, Beatrix's goddaughter, Charlotte Ladram, has a rather odd conversation with Beatrix's oldest friend, Lulu, about some items Lulu mailed for Beatrix after the funeral. At the same time, Charlotte meets an American college professor who is eager to exercise his considerable charm on her and, by the way, get a look at the letters Tristram sent his sister from Spain.

Letters? What letters?

Charlotte's comfortable life is dull. These letters are the perfect excuse for spur-of-the-moment trips to Wales to visit another of Beatrix's friends. Frank Griffith fought with Tristram in Spain and, yes, he knows about the letters. He received a package of them after Beatrix died.

Frank says he destroyed the letters, but he changes his story after someone sneaks into his barn and conks him over the head while he's getting the letters out of their hiding place.

It begins to look as though Beatrix's death was the motive for the break-in and the accused really was framed, but by whom? The only people who stand to gain are Charlotte and her half-brother, Maurice, Tristram's son and heir to his copyrights.

The professor loses his charm, Maurice tries to shuffle Charlotte out of the way, and even Beatrix kept more secrets than anyone had guessed. Lies are everywhere and no one can be trusted.

The closer Charlotte gets to the truth, the more she depends on that awfully nice Derek Fairfax. Not a brilliant fellow, but honest and absolutely brimming with good intentions.

Although it lacks the atmosphere and split-second timing of Mr. Goddard's last novel, "Debt of Dishonour," "Hand in Glove" has meticulous construction, a twist of personality for every stock character and a -- of honor where you will least expect it.

It has more than a -- of deceit: Just when you think Mr. Goddard has told the whole story, you take another look -- and realize you're only halfway through the book! Well, he does have two sleeves, after all.

"Hand in Glove" is the perfect fit.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Hand in Glove."

Author: Robert Goddard.

Publisher: Poseidon Press.

Length, price: 428 pages, $22.

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