cover image Fling with a Demon Lover

Fling with a Demon Lover

Kelvin Christopher James. HarperCollins Publishers, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017350-0

In his second novel, Trinidad-born, Harlem resident James (Secrets) spins a charming, textured but not quite cohesive tale in which ancient superstitions impinge on a modern romance. A teacher in Harlem, Sassela Jack, 38, leads a disciplined, regimented life, pursues a Ph.D. in teaching science and is reconsidering her relationship with her lazy live-in boyfriend. After a sweet-talking West Indian student named Ciam Turrin volunteers to dig out Sassela's snow-buried car, teacher and pupil start meeting for coffee. Though Sassela quickly pegs Ciam as far more charming than trustworthy, his company is refreshing. When Sassela is offered a free vacation on the Greek island of Mineros, she breaks up with her boyfriend and takes the trip to clear her mind. To Sassela's surprise, Ciam shows up on the island as well; when he offers his services as tour guide and ""bargain slave,"" the adventuress in her assents. From here the story slows down to the pace of a sun-drenched vacation; Ciam and Sassela stay in a seaside cottage and commence a steamy sexual relationship. Gradually, however, Sasella becomes aware that the island is not the idyll she had expected. A beautiful 10-year-old native girl, Fifina, who seems to possess dark, otherworldly powers, becomes bizarrely obsessed with Ciam. Fifina's capacity for evil (she is a lamia, who lures men to destruction) finally moves the tale into the supernatural realm. James's lilting prose-dense, vivid and musical-is captivating, but the novel is an uneasy blend of horror and myth, not quite succeeding as either. (June)