cover image Blackground


Joan Aiken. Doubleday Books, $18.95 (293pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26021-3

Actress Cat (short for Catherine) Conwil has landed a juicy role in a period TV drama being filmed by Pyramid Television on location at Knoyle Court. The estate's owner, Lord James Tybold Fortuneswell (a mysterious media mogul who is also a big noise at Pyramid), turns up, and is smitten by Cat--who has been transformed into a silver blonde for the part. Sweeping Cat off her feet, he soon has them honeymooning in Venice, even though they barely know each other. When they begin to exchange notes about their pasts, Cat fails to connect Ty's sudden migraine attack and ensuing coldness toward her with her revelation that she had met him years before when she was a trainee nurse and he was at the bedside of a dying patient. Black ground turns, almost imperceptibly, from a chatty, albeit sensitive, first-person narrative into a witty murder mystery. Cat's meditations on life and the death of her Welsh-Russian mother gradually are overridden by her growing awareness that several unexplained accidents have threatened her life. The reader cottons on before Cat does, and enjoys every minute of the denouement, including the just retribution that comes to the evildoers. Author of more than two dozen children's books and many adult novels, Aiken has a fine sense of pacing and a sure ear for dialogue. (Aug.)