WITHOUT MERCY

Renate Dorrestein, Author, Hester Velmans, Translator , trans. from the Dutch by Hester Velmans. Viking $23.95 (223p) ISBN 978-0-670-03188-7

An Amsterdam couple descend into a nightmare world of recriminations, teen violence and self-destruction in this psychological drama by Dorrestein (A Heart of Stone). As the novel begins, the Vermeers—Phinus, a toy designer, and his wife, Franka, a social worker—are struggling to recover from the death of their teenage son, Jem, who was shot in a club in a random incident. The strain on their marriage is palpable, and the frustrated Phinus tries to lighten things up by taking Franka on a weekend retreat to a remote country inn. The quaint inn makes a fine first impression, but trouble begins when they wander off the grounds and Franka is attacked by a pair of sinister young teenage girls ("graffiti made flesh") on a local bridge. Phinus arrives and overreacts with a vengeance, beating up the girls. Afterward, the injured Franka demands that he make amends and give the girls a ride, but her charitable impulse is misguided: the girls threaten them with blackmail and then lock the couple in a dilapidated cabin. This incident drives a final wedge between Phinus and Franka, and their split catapults Phinus into another attack of blind rage. Phinus's descent into the same violence and heedless behavior that ended his son's life is Dorrestein's true theme, and it is chillingly elaborated, but the progress of the plot is uneven and jolting, particularly toward the end. Harrowing in conception, but lacking the smoothness and perfectly calibrated suspense of A Heart of Stone, this will disappoint Dorrestein's fans in the U.S. (July 14)

Reviewed on: 05/26/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 293 pages - 978-0-385-60353-9
Paperback - 223 pages - 978-0-14-200455-5
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