THE PARTING GIFT

Robert Mendelsohn, Author . Prion $12 (277p) ISBN 978-1-85375-377-0

This haunting, character-driven puzzle by Mendelsohn (Footsteps on a Drum) squeezes the romance of the Cuban revolution, the rigors of Israeli history and the deeds of the Miami Mafia into a steamy atmospheric mystery steeped in international flavor and family tragedy. An unkempt and antisocial Cuban exile, Alex Moreno, hires the anonymous Israeli narrator, Mr. Lawyer, to track down prime Israeli real estate bought by his father, Abraham, at wartime prices in the '40s. Acting on one of Alex's cryptic clues, Mr. Lawyer finds 80-year-old Danny, a Spanish Civil War veteran who, in his home village in the Galilee, knew Moreno as Abraham Schwartz. Mr. Lawyer sends Danny to Florida to interview a celebrity astrologer, the son of dead mob boss Morton Chandler, who took Abraham in when he fled Israel under a cloud in the 1920s. Danny's taped interviews with Chandler lead to meetings with legendary Cuban singer Carmelita Rodriguez, the love of Abraham's life now living in Miami as a singing waitress. Meanwhile, Mr. Lawyer's estranged wife makes trouble on the anniversary of his British father's death, and his cold, aloof mother inexplicably demands to meet the annoying Alex, who begins opening up when Danny reveals he was a high-ranking officer in Castro's secret police force. The life stories revealed in what began as a search for proof of land ownership are as passionately romantic as the stories of the cast of Casablanca. No matter that the reader will guess the main surprise before Mr. Lawyer does, this is a seductively mysterious tale with delicious settings, memorable characters who undergo fascinating trials and a perfect bittersweet resolution that leaves enough in the air to preserve the story's edge of mystery. (July)

Reviewed on: 07/16/2001
Release date: 08/01/2000
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