This is the second Brian Moore novel I've read and if there is a pattern emerging it is that his books are intensely readable. I defy you to read the first ten pages of this book and try to set it down. It isn't going to happen. That said, though, the book does not completely succeed from an artistic standpoint.
The story starts off as a simple mystery. An American woman is vacationing in France with her husband. She wants to separate from him and is indeed planning to announce this to him when he is involved in a boating accident and killed. The following day, she returns to the hospital to which he was taken, and is told that his body has disappeared.
Pretty gripping, admittedly, and sure enough, the reader finds himself happily engaged in discovering what this mystery is all about. But very quickly, we sense something unusual about this woman. Her thoughts and actions do not seem normal; in fact, they become somewhat bizarre. It is then that we learn that there is something else going on here; something much larger than the mystery at hand. We realize that the husband's disappearance is only a minor element of this other aspect.
I cannot reveal what it is; it would ruin the experience of the earlier mystery. Let me just say that there is a supernatural element which leads to a thought-provoking theme: what is it that we want from this life? Salvation? Freedom? Privacy? It would appear that not all of us are involved in a lifelong, soul-searching quest for enlightenment, even when it is handed to us on a silver platter. And that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
My complaint with the novel lies in the fact that not all the pieces fit together. There are several threads which are begun and left in the air and one gets the disturbing sense that this was deliberate. They are red herrings meant to deceive us. What were the husband's notes, for example? Much time is spent in showing us his writing them and her searching for them. And then they are never mentioned again. What was that about? And the fat man with the dogs. He appears out of nowhere, seems to have a malevolent presence at several significant events, then vanishes. Why is he even there? Of course, the entire beginning subplot steers us in the wrong direction to begin with.
Clearly, these things are intentional, and I'm not sure why. Leading the reader into blind alleys does not advance the novel thematically or in any other way. But it is nevertheless an enjoyable book, and will inspire at least a little thoughtful introspection on the part of the reader.