cover image Dunster


John Clifford Mortimer. Viking Books, $21 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84059-5

In an impressive performance, Mortimer ( Paradise Postponed ) presents a drama of ideas that is also an acute psychological study of different kinds of friendship. Philip Progmire, an Oxford-educated accountant with thespian dreams, has engaged in lifelong skirmishes with journalist Dick Dunster, one of those men whose stock-in-trade is scorn and who disbelieve everything on principle. When Dunster digs up what he believes is the dirt on Philip's employer and friend--a hideous legacy of WW II--Progmire is forced to make some terrible choices among truths, loyalties and responsibilities. Mortimer's writing is as smoothly readable as ever, and some of his scenes are uproarious, but his sense of character is much sharper, and less cartoonish, than usual: Sir Crispin Bellhanger is a convincingly drawn paragon of virtue, Dunster himself a thoroughly lifelike mixture of warped idealism and cruelty, Crispin's wartime companions superb studies in muddled slyness. There is a trial scene that is gripping but, oddly, not the center of the novel, and a thought-provoking, touching but not entirely unexpected ending. Even as the star of his Rumpole novels seems somewhat in decline (Fiction Forecasts, Oct. 5), Mortimer's gifts as a realistic novelist with a gritty strength to his storytelling are expanding. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Jan.)