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Who could be more comfortable, more utterly natural in his setting, than Terence Green, the foundation director who commutes home each day to his wealthy, glamorous wife and two daughters (a son is at Dartmouth) in comfy Queenston, New Jersey? But all that changes when he's asked to judge the case of Ava-Rose Renfrew, who's accused one T.W. Binder of assaulting her. Suddenly infatuated with Ava-Rose, Terence finds himself rising to persuade his wavering fellow-jurors to convict Binder, then hanging around Ava-Rose's neighborhood and getting sucked into her raffish entourage. Soon he's swapping stories with her aunt Holly Mae Loomis and her Cap'n-Uncle Riff, flirting with her twin nieces Dara and Dana, and, inevitably, bedding sweet Ava-Rose herself. And soon he's paying for his enchantment not only with the foundation's money, pinched with unwonted dexterity, but with his peace of mind—his double life has stirred obscure memories of the early life his upscale marriage rescued him from—and perhaps his freedom as well, as he slips into murder with the same horrible facility and self-excusing glibness that marked his descent into romantic obsession. (There's even a murder he's not sure he's committed, a disconcerting complement to the general weightlessness of his other misdeeds.) Meantime, he's getting broad hints, in Smith's most overwrought style, that Ava-Rose is not what she seems; in fact, she may be nothing but an optical illusion.
It's a mark of both Smith's unsettling power and its limitations that Terence's wayward obsession is so much stronger and more believable than the shadowy woman who inspires it, or even than Terence himself.