Picks and Pans Review: Flaming Tree

updated 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Phyllis A. Whitney

With 29 mysteries behind her, many of them best-sellers, Whitney has her format down pat—she makes obtuse symbols of good and evil palatable with an unassuming, laconic style. In this case the mystery begins when a boy, Jody, and his mother fall from a rocky cliff in Carmel, Calif. They survive, but the boy is comatose and the mother is apparently paralyzed. Tyler, the "grim, angry" father, wants the boy sent to an institution. But Kelsey, a friend of a friend of the family, convinces him that there is hope. Kelsey, a therapist for comatose children, moves into Tyler's house to take care of the boy. As he begins to recover and to speak, anonymous phone calls tell Kelsey to stop asking questions. It seems Jody knows something about a murder that occurred before his accident. That murder is linked to his fall. Is his mother's paralysis real? Marisa, a casual psychic, befriends Kelsey and has some helpful hunches about what's going on. This gristly story of gnarled family relationships is politely summarized—hold the overt sex and violence, please—and exactly told. The web of intrigue is as neatly complicated as the tatting in an elaborate antimacassar. This might be an episode of Falcon Crest guest-starring Nancy Drew and narrated by Miss Marple. (Doubleday, $15.95)

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