by Judith Guest and Rebecca Hill

The title of this novel may have even more meanings than its authors intended. It literally refers to an aura of death that's hanging over St. Cloud, Minn., and to the fact that some of the book's characters seem to be on the feckless side. Killing time, however, is also basically what Guest and Hill were doing in writing the novel and what anyone is doing who reads it. The story combines basic whodunit mystery with blatant, soap-opera melodrama. As it begins, Nicky Uhler, one of those sleazy but irresistible-to-women guys whom this kind of plot can't do without, comes back to town. He's into drug dealing, blackmail, adultery, extortion and whatever other villainy he can fit into his busy schedule. Aghast at his return are, among others, his ex-wife, Marty; his adulterous girlfriend, Elizabeth; his pal Charlie (who went to prison for two years after joining in one of Nicky's deals) and Charlie's brother, Simon, a surgeon and husband of Elizabeth—pay attention, she is Nicky's adulterous girlfriend. They all get mixed up in two deaths, which are investigated by another of their old friends, who's now sheriff. Authors Guest, best known for Ordinary People, and Hill, a Georgia novelist, are glib. They never embarrass themselves and manage to finesse a few slick passages. "I'll tell you something," Marty says to Charlie at one point. "There is no life after high school. Not in this town. The grown-up world is just high school with money." The characters are no deeper than the pages they appear on, though, and the events keep getting more and more unlikely. This is one of those novels that contain no enlightenment and only a little diversion; it is better than spending a few hours memorizing license plate numbers, but not by much. (Delacorte, $17.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • V.R. Peterson.