cover image The Face on the Wall

The Face on the Wall

Jane Langton, Author Viking Books $21.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-87674-7

Langton's impish sense of humor enlivens this latest in her deftly illustrated Homer Kelly series (Dead as a Dodo, 1996), which is further enriched by modern parallels to ancient folk tales. Homer, a retired Massachusetts detective, and his sensible and sharp-witted wife, Mary, a historian, have full schedules: Homer aids young prisoners with legal problems, and Mary teaches fifth-graders at an exclusive private school. Yet there's always time to delve into local mysteries. In this case, the questions center around the missing and much-abused wife of a greedy land developer and the tragic death of Eddy, an eight-year-old Downs Syndrome child who was found, his skull crushed, at the base of a wall that Mary's niece Annie was illustrating with fairy-tale characters. Echoes of folk tales and nursery rhymes permeate every phase of the investigation: there are strong hints of Bluebeard, Hansel and Gretel, the Fisherman's Wife--even the Odyssey. Shrewd and persistent sleuthing in a tightly controlled plot and a group of feisty and eccentric colleagues combine to keep suspense high and lead to a conclusion that features a wonderfully loathsome 10-year-old--surely one of the most odious children created since The Bad Seed. (June)