Displaced Person

The request to involve himself in the case of Marie-Therese Laniel prompts numerous recollections for Kenworthy, and these flashbacks reveal Marie-Therese’s life as a series of sudden crises: Found as an abandoned infant in a Nativity scene manger, she is adopted by a harsh couple from whom she runs away as a teenager. Kenworthy aids her against his better judgment during the war, after which they drift in and out of touch; he last sees her in Brussels working in a brothel. Forty years later, as he assists in her investigation and interrogation, he once again encounters the feelings and companions of his youth.

The wartime flashbacks offer some evocative details (“When his knuckles had accidentally brushed against the face of one of the bodies, the cheek had come away like rotten elastic”), but the merits of the observant style diminish as this background narrative lengthens (to 88 out of 183 pages), rambles, and creates a lulling atmosphere. The present-day detective plot has the feel of a new book starting, and Kenworthy’s battlefield comrades, now murder suspects, remain sketchy in both halves of the novel. Even the big reunion scene between Kenworthy and Marie-Therese (withheld until page 130) deflates its tension in talk.

The final impression is of a practiced author overindulging himself in the reveries of his detective-hero at the expense of plot and pace. Hilton’s fans who know Kenworthy from previous books may enjoy this one, but DISPLACED PERSON is probably not the best choice for a novel with which to introduce new readers to the Kenworthy series.