Picks and Pans Review: The Letter

updated 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Richard Paul Evans

This volume concludes Richard Paul Evans's Christmas Box trilogy (which is not as seasonal as it sounds). And hallelujah: Readers shouldn't have to suffer the overwrought prose, flimsy characters, and contrived plotting of this series.

The Letter opens in 1933 with MaryAnne Parkin's decision to leave her husband, David, who, we are told, has been ignoring her for 20 years. Alone, David attempts to find his mother, who abandoned him as a child. His quest turns out to be fruitless, but he does meet a bratty society girl who nearly makes him forget his wife. In fact he seems barely to miss her. And since MaryAnne is absent for most of the book, her sadness doesn't register either, so the couple's eventual reunion is hardly moving. Similarly, when David gets beaten senseless while fighting a group of racist yahoos who are digging up the grave of his black friend, the only response is relief, since everyone knows that such melodrama—in derivative, wannabe tragedies like this one—is a sure sign that The End is near. (Simon & Schuster, $15.95)

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