Staring at the Light: A Sarah Fortune Mystery

Frances Fyfield, Author Viking Books $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-88730-9

The latest entry in Fyfield's Sarah Fortune series (Perfectly Pure and Good, etc.) sees the sexy, unconventional London solicitor taking on a risky case involving two dangerously close brothers. Misfit painter and ex-bomb-maker Cannon Smith is accused of manufacturing explosives and profiting from illegal business dealings, but his legal problems are nothing compared to the danger posed by his erstwhile partner in crime, his evil twin, Johnny. Now that Cannon has fallen in love and married the meek Julie, he is trying to steer clear of John. But Johnny fully intends to remain his brother's keeper, going so far as to have Julie assaulted and forcing Cannon underground. While Johnny needs Cannon's demolition expertise to maintain his extortionate real estate dealings, he also depends emotionally on his brother the way a sadist relies on a masochist. Fortune, taking the attorney-client relationship beyond normal bounds as usual, hides both Cannon and Julie, but there is a weak spot in their defenses: Fortune's dentist and hesitant lover, William. Fyfield has a knack for creating twisted characters, and Johnny makes an unnerving bogeyman--a pudgy psychopath with crooked, hideously stained teeth, a warped psyche and a deep fear of dentists. The Dickensian cast gratifies, and only a few improbabilities mar the otherwise suspenseful plot, which builds to a piercing climax. Fyfield's offbeat thriller hits a nerve, taking advantage of a universal fear of dental work and elaborating themes of dependency and revenge. Agent, Esther Newberg. (Jan.)