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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

ATHENA is the third work in a trilogy which follows the protagonist, Mr. Morrow, in his wanderings through the realm of art and the criminal underworld. Morrow is a man of contradictory sensibility—one aspect yearning to rub shoulders with Gothic monsters, the other retreating into a pristine world of artistic perfection and sublimity.

The novel begins with the narrator paying homage to his love, A., who has vanished and gradually describes his visit to an ominous house. There, he meets a pair of sinister characters, one of whom, Morden, proposes that Morrow evaluate and catalogue eight Flemish paintings in his possession. The narrative then oscillates between chapters devoted to the narrative and brief interchapters that describe and analyze seven of these eight paintings.

On a second trip through the neighborhood, Morrow follows a striking woman who invites him into her room at the same house, and the two begin a steamy romance that continues throughout the novel. One day Morden takes the narrator to meet a man referred to as the Da, who is a powerful criminal and the major force behind the theft and the cataloging of the paintings.

A second narrative thread follows Morrow’s elderly cousin, Aunt Corky, who becomes increasingly ill and eventually dies, leaving her estate to him. Detective Hackett, a police inspector from Morrow’s past, arrives and asks about the stolen paintings.

Morrow soon confesses that the paintings are hidden in the house, and after an investigation it is discovered that all but one of them are forgeries. Almost overnight the Da, Morden, and A. disappear, and Detective Hackett informs Morrow that Morden and A. are the Da’s children. Morrow then realizes that the romance was...

(The entire section is 418 words.)