Graham Swift, Author . Knopf $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-41549-4

George Webb, a divorced ex-cop and the narrator of this fine novel, works as a private investigator in London specializing in "matrimonial work": finding evidence of philandering. Some of the tearful women who enter his office become lovers (one, Rita, becomes his heart-of-gold assistant), but Sarah Nash becomes something altogether different. A language teacher and translator, she wants Webb to follow her husband and his lover, Kristina Lazic, a refugee taken in by the Nashes, to the airport "to see if she really goes"—alone—back to Croatia. Sarah knows the truth of the affair already; she's just looking for a sign that her husband can love her again. But the story belongs to Webb, through a masterful interior monologue that links the action of the present with a meditation on the past. Webb's movements on a particular day in November furnish the opportunity to learn about his childhood, his failed marriage, his career as a policeman terminated by a minor scandal and his constrained and lonely life. Sarah becomes Webb's opportunity for a second chance at happiness and redemption. But that reality will have to wait until her release from prison (it's not giving away the plot to note her crime: the murder of her husband). While this story sounds a bit like an American noir thriller from the 1930s (and Swift's title may be a nod to the noir fascination with night and shadow), the Booker Prize–winning author (for Last Orders) is after bigger themes: the weight of history, the role of fate, the inexplicable vagaries of love. Though perhaps not at the level of Last Orders, this beautifully written novel is a worthwhile addition to the Swift canon. (May 5)

Forecast:It's been nearly seven years since the publication of Last Orders, and an expectant readership may well justify Knopf's 75,000 first printing. Lovely cover art won't hurt.

Reviewed on: 03/31/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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