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Publishers Weekly, 1992-12-14 The virtuosic Parks, whose highly praised novels ( Family Planning et al.) use restrained irony with chilling effect, and whose recent nonfiction work, Italian Neighbors , wittily evokes that country from an outsider's perspective, has combined both skills and added a dimension of macabre imagination in this corker of a psychological thriller. Parks creates a memorable protagonist: a smug, morally empty Englishman living in Italy who lies, steals and murders without compunction, convinced that he is intellectually superior to his victims. Smarmy Morris Duckworth blames everyone but himself for the misfortunes that destroyed his once promising future: sent down from Cambridge, he was forced to bear the jibes (``pansy/weakling'') of his brutish, vulgar father, and then he managed to sabotage every job opportunity through vainglorious boasting. Now he is living penuriously in Verona, tutoring spoiled Italian students for their university exams. His devious scheme to marry wealthy teenager Massimina Trevisan segues into a seriocomic, picaresque caper during which Morris casually dispatches people who thwart his desires. The reader turns pages in horrified fascination, waiting for the wheels of justice to turn, but Park's's final surprise is the quintessential irony. In the hands of a less talented author, a self-pitying whiner-turned-criminal might be a bore, but so deft is Parks's dissection of Morris's pathology that this taut narrative gains in suspense and surprise and sweeps to a shocking conclusion. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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