Picks and Pans Review: Mermaid

updated 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Margaret Millar

Millar's low-key hero, who also figured in her last novel, The Murder of Miranda, is a young Chicano lawyer working for a law firm in Southern California. His wife is a doctor, interning upstate. The lawyer becomes involved with an unhappy family that includes a beautiful, retarded 22-year-old heiress. The girl attends a school for the "exceptional" children of the wealthy, and after visiting the lawyer to ask if it's true that she has some "rights," she disappears. Her much older brother, who looks after her, hires the hero to find her. The cast includes a gay teacher; the aging, proud headmistress of the school; the law firm's incredibly nosy secretary, and three or four other richly realized characters. Rather than a conventional mystery, this novel is a bleak story with a tragic, ugly ending—but crafted by a superior writer. The author, in private life the wife of mystery ace Ross Macdonald, has an original sense of humor which provides welcome moments of lightness in an otherwise nasty tale. (Morrow, $11.50)

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