Picks and Pans Review: Charade

updated 02/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by John Mortimer

The author is a lively prose stylist who is responsible for the Rumpole mystery novels. This fiction is set in an English seacoast town in 1944. A film company has taken over most of a resort hotel, and a young man, the narrator, arrives to begin a job as an assistant to the director. The director is aloof and mysterious. His wife, a pretty onetime starlet, and the rest of the film company are heavy-drinking deadbeats. The movie is supposed to be a documentary about the British Army, but, although nobody knows it, it is the eve of World War II's Normandy landings. In the early chapters the novel is a broad, slapstick farce about moviemakers, and there are some wonderful scenes of scruffy characters cadging drinks and killing time because the sun, in typical British fashion, absolutely refuses to cooperate with the filmmakers. Then a sergeant slips to his death on the cliffs. The narrator becomes absorbed in trying to find out if the fall was accidental, the director comes out of hiding (and proves to be not very interesting) and the sense of high comedy is dissipated in plot complications, sober resolutions and revelations. Too bad. The satire of the first few chapters is quite wonderful. (Viking, $16.95)

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