(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The fata morgana of Kotzwinkle’s title is an ancient term suggesting a revelation that illuminates destiny. The message, however, is wrapped in mystery, and its interpretation depends to a considerable extent on the mind-set of the seeker who would unravel its perplexities. The “fate” that is revealed through the disclosure of a “mirage” or an “illusion” is an indistinct but inviting vision that draws an explorer beyond the familiar and into contact with the extraordinary. Once in this shadow world, both physical and psychic stability are at stake, but the lure of a kind of forbidden knowledge is so powerful that even an essentially rational man such as Kotzwinkle’s Inspector Picard is willing to override the habits of a lifetime in response to the temptations of the mystery.

Picard senses (and Kotzwinkle implies) that even if no ultimate illumination occurs, the journey toward the enigma in itself is as valuable as its goal, which includes the possibility of some startling answer to a cosmic question. In Picard’s case, the journey is a dream/descent into the subconscious, a course that parallels Picards travels across Europe to gather clues that might provide information about the frighteningly mysterious Ric Lazare.

At first, Picard regards any intrusion of evil into his life as an intervention from an outside source. He begins to realize that his fascination with criminal life may stem from some elements in his...

(The entire section is 585 words.)