cover image Betrayals


Charles Palliser / Author Ballantine Books $23 (353p) ISBN 978

Puzzles within puzzles, distorted reflections of events, telling slips of the pen, parody, metafictional commentary and old-fashioned suspense pervade this narrative tour de force from the author of The Sensationist and The Quincunx. While much of the action is set in Scotland (both contemporary and bygone), the more important milieus are the minds of the novel's many storytellers. Invoking a variety of styles and genres-including whodunit, BBC soap opera, obituary, memo, academic treatise, true-crime, journal, epistle, translation and legend-Palliser fashions a series of stories preoccupied with rivalry and murder (including one possible murder early in the century and another resulting from a contemporary scandal) which frequently involve authors and academics. At first appearing unrelated, the tales, many of which are Chinese puzzle boxes of stories within stories, reveal themselves as retellings of one another, each offering some missing piece of what has come before. As Palliser juxtaposes fiction with less respectable forms of deception, he humorously explores storytellers' often ignoble aims: settling scores; aggrandizing or otherwise disguising themselves through their art. His sure-handedness, which allows him to maintain suspense even while poking fun at the technical trickery that makes it possible, along with his formal pyrotechnics and dashes of murder, combine throughout for a complex, enthralling work. (Jan.)