Picks and Pans Review: The Pearlkillers

updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Rachel Ingalls

The four fictional pieces in this book are described by that pretty, musical word, novella. These, however, are definitely not short novels with developed characters, as the novella label implies. They are old-fashioned plot-heavy tales with emphasis on atmosphere, suspense and tricky twists. The book's title is drawn from an incident in the story "Inheritance," in which a character explains that certain women in the heroine's family have skin that causes pearls to shrivel up. The heroine, just divorced, decides to look up her late mother's family and finds a bunch of bizarre German relatives sharing a South American castle with some vampire bats. "Inheritance" is long on creepy mood and short on coherence. Then there's "Third Time Lucky," in which a young woman has two successive husbands who are killed in Vietnam, so she becomes obsessed by Egypt (no, it doesn't make any sense). She then makes her third husband take her to Cairo on their honeymoon. "People to People" is a muddle about five former dorm mates who, 20 years earlier, got drunk and killed a fellow student in an accident. Now one of them is born again and wants to confess. None of these characters behaves in a believable manner, and there is no way to tell Bill from Joe or Herb or Dave or Sherman, so no reader is going to care much about the carnage at the end. "Captain Hendrik's Story" tells of an adventurer who leaves his family for 10 years and then comes home to a hero's life—until a member of his expedition who knows the truth returns to blackmail him. The story wanders pointlessly toward a heavily contrived ending. Ingalls, an American who lives in England and is the author of four other books, including Mrs. Caliban, writes as if she's transcribing what someone has improvised into a tape recorder. A little more logic and some believable characters would have been much appreciated. (Simon and Schuster, $15.95)

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