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Books
Brief Reviews
by Phoebe-Lou Adams


A Dead Man in Deptford

by Anthony Burgess.

Carroll & Graf, 272 pages, $21.00.

For his novel about Christopher Marlowe, the late Anthony Burgess contrived a brilliantly effective prose style, a combination of Elizabethan and modern English in which the modern never weakens the impression of a past time and the Elizabethan never becomes distractingly archaic. The period details, including a sickening execution and a blood-chilling interrogation, are equally well done, while the ideas discussed, the manner of argument, the clothes, the food--everything, in fact, down to muddy roads and filthy floors, rings true. The characters carry similarly three-dimensional conviction--with one surprising exception. The reader meets Marlowe the poet, catching lines from nowhere; Marlowe the homosexual, applauding boys and tobacco; Marlowe the skeptical inquirer, enjoying speculation with the free-thinking intellectuals of Walter Raleigh's circle; and Marlowe the Cambridge-trained playwright, defending the propriety of deploying arcane learning on the stage. One never really meets Marlowe the spy and suspected coiner of false money, whose old associates saw fit to kill him on a May evening in the port of Deptford. The impression throughout the novel is that Marlowe never altogether understands either the methods or the dangers of espionage. Perhaps that is precisely what Burgess intended--a demonstration that spying is no trade for a poet.



The Case of the Frozen Addicts

by J. William Langston, M.D., and Jon Palfreman.

Pantheon, 320 pages, $25.00.

Dr. Langston, a neurologist, was at work at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in 1982 when he encountered an inexplicable patient. The man was motionless, like a victim of Parkinson's disease, but he was improbably young for Parkinson's, and the attack had other unreasonable aspects. With some luck and some help from the medical bush telegraph, Dr. Langston discovered five similar cases, all people who had taken one of the "designer drugs" available to addicts. The doctor succeeded in thawing them out, but their troubles were not over and his had merely begun. The account of the affair and its consequences, written in the third person for good reasons, is much more than a medical detective story. It expands into professional rivalries and alliances, government finance for research and government obstruction of the same, ethical debates, overlooked data, and overpriced drugs. After word got out that a chemical known as MPTP might be useful in research on Parkinson's, the price of that previously trivial substance rose in two years from $11.00 for five grams to $9,500.00. In addition to enjoying what amounts to a lively interprofessional melodrama, the reader learns a great deal about Parkinson's disease, the extremely delicate work required to study and treat it, and the unexpected side issues of research --such as how to house a bonanza of monkeys. This medical narrative is as absorbing a tale as one could ask for.



Up Front

text and pictures by Bill Mauldin.

Norton, 240 pages, $19.95.

In the fiftieth-anniversary edition of this classic of the Second World War, Willie and Joe, those magnificently scruffy citizen soldiers, are as mordantly unheroic as ever: "Just gimme a coupla aspirin. I already got a Purple Heart." Mr. Mauldin's text is a reminder of how forthright that war seemed in its time--a simple matter of beating the krauts.



Last Dance at the Hotel Kempinski

by Robin Hirsch.

University Press of New England, 320 pages, $24.95.

Mr. Hirsch's middle-aged parents escaped from Hitler's Reich with little time to spare and settled in London, where they had two children. Their relatives--those who survived--scattered from Shanghai to Israel. Mr. Hirsch's account of growing up and making his way as an isolated exile is sometimes pitifully sad and sometimes very funny, but always based on his desire to preserve human connections. The connections are varied. His father is almost too dreadful for belief, or would be if he were less vividly reported. His mother's first husband--"The man who danced with Marlene Dietrich"--is a generous, affectionate charmer and possibly a bit of a con man. Between these extremes lies a gallery of interesting people who survived disaster and hang together despite time and distance. Mr. Hirsch's memoir is a warm-hearted tribute to all of them and easily warms a reader's heart.



Hidden Treasures Revealed

by Albert Kostenevich.

Abrams, 292 pages, $49.50.

Mr. Kostenevich is the curator of modern European painting at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where works of art sequestered since the Second World War are gradually being revealed. This book covers an exhibition of French paintings, largely Impressionist, dating from 1828 to 1927. "Of the seventy-four works, only two have ever been published in color before, while a large number of them have never been published at all." Mr. Kostenevich's introduction explains the hurried wartime circumstances under which the paintings were whisked out of Germany, the difficulties of identifying and authenticating individual works, and the long delay in revealing their presence in Russia. It is a sensible, understated report of the practical, emotional, and political considerations that determined the disposition of the paintings. The paintings themselves are a splendid display, and they are accompanied by texts on their history and sometimes details illustrating brushwork. The book will enchant any lover of Impressionist art.



A River Town

by Thomas Keneally.

Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, 324 pages, $24.00.

Mr. Keneally's latest novel begins in a small town in southeastern Australia with Tim Shea, a not very prosperous shopkeeper from Ireland, relaxing under his backyard pepper tree to read two newspapers, have a small drink to himself, and waste no sympathy on England's predicament with the Boers. It is the last quiet moment in the book, for Mr. Keneally is a master of ingenious incident and intriguing chicanery. Tim, poor fellow, has a terrible time with bigotry and bad luck. The reader is offered a fine time with constant action based on an intelligent sociological view.


Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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