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The Devil and Miss Prym

Paulo Coelho, Author, Amanda Hopkinson, Translator, Nick Caistor, Translator
Paulo Coelho, Author, Amanda Hopkinson, Translator, Nick Caistor, Translator . HarperCollins $24.95 (205p) ISBN 978-0-06-052799-0
Reviewed on: 02/27/2006
Release date: 07/01/2006
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New to the U.S. but first published in Europe in 1992, Coelho's latest (following the bestselling The Zahir ) is an old school parable of good and evil. When a stranger enters the isolated mountain town of Viscos with the devil literally by his side, the widow Berta knows (because her deceased husband, with whom she communicates daily, tells her) that a battle for the town's souls has begun. The stranger, a former arms dealer, calls himself Carlos and proposes a wager to the town: if someone turns up murdered within a week, he'll give the town enough gold to make everyone wealthy. Carlos ensures people believe him by choosing the town bartender, the orphan Chantal Prym, as his instrument: he shows her where the gold is, confides that his wife and children have been executed by kidnapper terrorists (remember: 1992), and that he is hoping his belief that people are basically evil will be vindicated. Chantal would like nothing better than to disappear with the gold herself and thus faces her own dilemmas. Add in corrupt townspeople (including a priest), sometimes biting social commentary and, distastefully, a very heavily stereotyped recurring town legend about an Arab named Ahab, and you've got quite a little Garden of Eden potboiler. But the unsatisfying ending lets everyone off the hook and leaves questions hanging like ripe apples. (July 3)

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