cover image The Tryst

The Tryst

Michael Dibdin. Summit Books, $17.45 (168pp) ISBN 978-0-671-69543-9

Aileen Macklin, at 35, is trapped in a joyless marriage, and her job as a psychiatrist in an underfunded social program in Thatcher's England offers few rewards; she is ``absolutely certain that she is a person to whom nothing more would ever happen.'' That's as tantalizing a premonition of disaster as the author of a psychological suspense novel can offer, and Dibdin quickly makes good with a tightly coiled, coolly analytical depiction of two crumbling psyches. Into Aileen's life comes a tormented teenaged patient who reminds her of a lost love and carries a troubling burden of guilt. Once a squatter, he now seeks institutionalization and resists Aileen's every effort to uncover the facts causing his terror. This dense, compact mood piece includes stories within stories within flashbacks, preventing its structure from becoming clear until the closing moments. While an ambiguous ending may irritate some readers, the sense of creeping dread that pervades the narrative is sustained superbly throughout, distinguishing this work as both a haunting thriller and as a series of harshly lit snapshots of London's dispossessed. (Jan.)