Picks and Pans Review: Queen of Hearts

updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Susan Richards Shreve

Shreve's sixth novel has all the earmarks of empty-headed melodrama: There are murders, infidelities, suicide attempts, rapes (one heterosexual, one homosexual), wife beating, kitten stranglings and even a killer hurricane. The book has more to offer though than an action-packed plot. In simple, often beautiful, prose Shreve creates a cast of memorable characters who are the inhabitants of an imaginary Massachusetts coastal town called Bethany. There is the passionate heroine, Francesca Woodbine, granddaughter of the town's prostitute/fortune-teller and heir to her clairvoyance. There is France-sea's brother, Prince Hal, an odd, gentle boy who teaches tricks to his collection of cats, and weird Will Weaver, who keeps pet snakes in his bedroom and adores colors. "On his night to make supper at the Weaver house, Will spent hours arranging the meal not to eat but to look at," writes Shreve in a typically vivid passage. "He liked avocados for the rich green and brown lying in wedges against a slender tomato and black pitted olive. He liked red lettuce studded with pearls of water; he liked white mushrooms and raspberries and firm peaches pitted and sliced." The story for the most part is completely improbable. On the eve of her wedding France-sea finds her fiancé with another woman and kills him. She is not discovered, but the murder haunts her and the close-knit town. A rash of other disasters follows, and only after Francesca herself is nearly murdered—by a man whose soul's dark depths match her own—can Bethany return to normal. But so skillful is Shreve at bringing to life this fictional world that, as in a fairy tale, resemblance to reality seems beside the point. Queen of Hearts is a delight. (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)

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