Picks and Pans Review: Day of Reckoning

updated 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John Katzenbach

Duncan Richards is a successful banker. His wife, Megan, sells real estate. Their three children (twin girls and a boy) are a parent's dream. They all live in a beautiful home, drive the finest cars and eat the best and healthiest of foods. In short, they are nothing less than a well-framed picture of a perfect family. Then, as it always must, the past returns to cloud the present and haunt the future.

Northern California, 1968, 20 years ago. Megan and Duncan Richards are members of the Phoenix Brigade, a radical group bent on uproar and overthrow. The leader of their pack is Tanya, beautiful, driven and primed to destroy a system of government she has grown to despise. But her plans simply were not meant to be. Her biggest and boldest move, a well-orchestrated bank robbery, backfires into a fiasco, and Tanya, rhetoric and all, is carted off to the slammer for a long visit, laying the blame for her capture squarely on Megan and Duncan Richards.

Eighteen years later, Tanya, free from prison, invades the Richards family, thirsting for revenge against her former revolutionary comrades. She kidnaps their young son and Megan's father and begins her deadly game.

Such is the plot for Katzenbach's third brilliant novel in eight years (following In the Heat of the Summer and The Traveler). Granted, it is a story that has been told before in various forms. It just never has been told this well. Few writers of crime fiction, for one thing, seem to understand the criminal mind as well as Katzenbach. He delves into the dark places, emerging with fascinating sketches of desperate people whose vision is limited by their destructive desires. Megan and Duncan Richards are drawn as examples of what happens when the misguided and naive come under the influence of a dominating personality. Then, as the layers are peeled, they sometimes find an inner core filled with strength and character. As for Tanya, she is one of the most sinister fictional creations in recent memory.

The book is almost frantically fast-paced and extremely well-written. Katzenbach's complicated yet easy-to-follow plots are right out of William Diehl. His dialogue is as sharp as Elmore Leonard's. His characters are as colorful as any this side of George V. Higgins. Add to this Katzenbach's own unique talents. You have a book that demands to be read. (Putnam, $19.95)

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