Picks and Pans Review: Breathless

updated 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by J.P. Smith

Swiss-born psychiatrist Peter Freytag, whose life seemed as precise as a Rolex, has been found with his throat slashed in a seedy downtown hotel. Now, his wife of 13 years, Jill Bowman, must cope not only with his death but with the indignities of a homicide investigation.

Like a stone dropped into a still pond, Peter's slaying sends ripples into every recess of Jill's life. As Det. David Resnick persistently grills her about the couple's years together, Jill, herself a historian, begins to reexamine their marriage.

Were they as happy as she believed? Was there someone else? And what could Peter have been doing at that flophouse? Brightly colored shards of memory shift kaleidoscopically as she starts to obsess about the past—and finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the sensitive, married detective.

Though Breathless, the fifth novel from the Massachusetts-based Smith, is a bona fide mystery, its thoughtful prose reads like one of Anita Brookner's introspective explorations. These are sentences you reread to savor even as you race eagerly after Jill to plumb that place she describes as "between silence and word...the beguiling landscape of memory." (Viking, $23.95)

WOODY ALLEN AT WORK: THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF BRIAN HAMILL

Woody Allen has never let his shyness turn him into a recluse. Even before the Soon-Yi affair ripped the roof off his private life, a sheepish Allen could be glimpsed sitting courtside at Knicks games or playing the clarinet at Michael's Pub or strolling up Fifth Avenue crouched under that floppy hat. His tightly sealed movie sets, though, have always been sanctuaries from the curious glare of his fans, a loyal bunch that may be interested in this elegant collection of 200 behind-the-scenes photos of Allen in his element, snapped by unit still-photographer Hamill, who has worked on all of the director's movies since Annie Hall in 1977.

An introductory essay by University of Southern California film professor Charles Champlin spells out the big revelation of these mostly black-and-white photos spanning 21 films: that Allen the director is not the "voluble neurotic of his stand-up comedy persona" but rather "a confident perfectionist running his show with a firm hand, sympathetic but aloof."

Aloofness, unfortunately, does not make for arresting pictures. The onset Allen isn't very expressive; he seems capable of deflecting scrutiny by turning his face into a blank mask. With few exceptions (like a warm shot of Woody and daughter Dylan), we aren't treated to any fresh perspectives of this complex, driven man. Watching him act in his movies is still the best way to glimpse the real Woody Allen. (Abrams, $39.95)

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