Another gruesome and rudely funny thriller from the author of Lie to Me (1990), Bring Me Children (1992), and other vivid exercises in contemporary Grand Guignol.
In vigorous parallel scenes that feature literally dozens of teasing cliff-hangers, Martin leads us in and out of the title domicile, a "decaying former hotel-hospital-asylum . . . [a] sixty-room monstrosity in the Virginia exurbs of Washington, D.C." Its new owner and renovator, Paul Milton, who also volunteers aid to prisoners undergoing rehabilitation, unhappily meets up with ex- convict Donald Growler, the innocent man who was framed for the murder of a teenaged girl committed several years earlier at Cul- de-Sacand whose brutalization in prison has converted him into a vengeful psychopath. That implausibility aside, the novel rocks along agreeably, piling up bodies (there are ten killings, none at all genteel), and deftly introducing characters involved in both the story's background and in its present action. Paul's wife Annie seeks the aid of her onetime lover, ex-cop Teddy Camel ("the Human Lie Detector," and a recurring Martin character), and he soon sniffs out evidence of a conspiracy that points to the murdered girl's family and to the police who investigated her death, as well as suggesting the existence of a mysterious "elephant" for which many people are more than willing to slaughter many other people. Meanwhile, Growler, having sworn to gain revenge on those who gave false testimony at his trial, blithely indulges his penchant for sexual humiliation, torture, garroting, and decapitation. He's a credible enough monster, the feisty Annie (who's not above violence herself, when it's called for) is an effective endangered heroine, and Teddy Camel has just the right Bogartian mixture of cynical ennui and soured romanticism. If only these people weren't wiping blood off themselves and one another every few pages. . . .
Expert technique pretty much wasted on sadistic excess.