cover image The Narrowing Stream

The Narrowing Stream

John Clifford Mortimer. Viking Books, $17.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81930-0

From British man of letters Mortimer ( Paradise Postponed ; Rumpole of the Bailey ), this is an early novel, published in England in 1954. It's a delicate tale of a marriage shaken by the death, possibly murder, of a young woman, Molly, whom the small country town calls a tart. Julia, her husband Swinton, and their children live beside a ``black and mysterious'' river, where houseboats moor. Julia, unfulfilled and still lovely, has sacrificed her theatrical aspirations to devote herself to the family. She is startled when a vagrant man appears at her door, rising apparently out of the water, and hints that Swinton may be implicated in the death of his sister Molly, whose body was found in her houseboat. While her daughters scoff, Julia shelters and feeds the man, who offers her the understanding she craves. Bitter about Swinton, Julia nevertheless swims the river to retrieve his cigarette case, which the vagrant says is lying in Molly's bedroom. Julia's motives and her subsequent recognition of a relationship forever changed between herself and Swinton are at issue in this novel, which, though elegantly written, proves ultimately understated and tenuous rather than emotionally gripping. Literary Guild alternate. (Oct.)