Elliot Perlman, Author . Riverhead $27.95 (640p) ISBN 978-1-57322-281-5

By copping the title of William Empson's classic of literary criticism, Australian writer Perlman (Three Dollars ) sets a high bar for himself, but he justifies his theft with a relentlessly driven story, told from seven perspectives, about the effects of the brief abduction of six-year-old Sam Geraghty by Simon Heywood, his mother Anna's ex-boyfriend. Charismatic, unemployed Simon is still obsessed with Anna nine years after their breakup—to the dismay of his present lover, Angelique, a prostitute. Anna's stockbroker husband, Joe, is one of Angelique's regulars, which feeds Simon's flame. When Angelique turns Simon in to the cops, he claims he had permission to pick Sam up; his fate hinges on whether Anna will back up his lie. Most of the perspectives are linked to Simon's shrink, Alex Klima, who writes to Anna and counsels Simon, Angelique and Joe's co-worker, Dennis. The most successful voices belong to Joe, who's spent his career on the edge of panic, and Dennis, whose bitter rants provide a corrective to Klima's unctuous psychological omniscience. Perlman, a lawyer, aims for a literary legal novel—think Grisham by way of Franzen—and the ambition is admirable though the product somewhat uneven. Simon's obsessions, his self-righteousness and his psychological blackmail, give him a perhaps unintended creepiness, and the novel, as big and juicy as it is, may not offer sufficient closure. Agent, Sarah Chalfant. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/04/2004
Release date: 01/01/2005
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 978-0-7865-5989-3
Open Ebook - 640 pages - 978-1-101-21733-7
Hardcover - 608 pages - 978-0-571-20717-6
Open Ebook - 978-0-7865-5988-6
Paperback - 628 pages - 978-1-59448-143-7
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