Spending a weekend in a friend's cabin in Wisconsin, frustrated playwright Andrew Neville decides to go bow hunting to pass the time. Neville manages to wound a deer and track it through the woods, only to find a stranger standing over his prey. Neville challenges the stranger, who calmly maintains it's a different deer. Neville continues to insist it is his kill, but the stranger dismisses his increasingly frantic assertions. This enrages Neville, who abruptly attacks the man with a hunting knife, slitting his throat. Composing himself, Neville leaves the woods after attempting to erase all signs of his presence there.
Watching the papers for news of the killing, Neville is surprised to discover his victim is actually John Dempsey, an old acquaintance from his early days in the theatre. Neville brazenly attends the funeral, and introduces himself to Dempsey's widow, Claudia. They are attracted to each other, and Claudia invites him to stay on for a few days. Neville agrees, and slowly insuates himself into Claudia's life. Neville gradually takes over his victim's very existence, even coming to resemble Dempsey physically. Neville's new life is threatened, however, by the presence of Roland Schiess, a private investigator hired by Dempsey's parents, who suspect Claudia and Neville conspired to kill their son. Scheiss plays an unsavory Porfiry to Neville's Raskolnikov, eventually forcing Neville to strike back.
Whether he's writing political thrillers like In the Forest of the Night (1992), suspense/comedy like Blue Moon (1994), or straight suspense like Split Image, Faust always delivers. In Neville, Faust has created a complex character whose first person narration will keep readers turning pages in sick fascination. Faust's exploration of duality is also fascinating, as Neville takes over not only Dempsey's life, but his work, a play which he subtly rewrites and passes off as his own (ironically, it brings him a measure of fame he never enjoyed on his own). Neville's calm acceptance of his murderous act and his usurpation of the trappings of his victim's existence are chilling. The cat and mouse game between him and Roland Scheiss is an added bonus, as it precipitates many of the macabre happenings that take place in the final third of the book.
Neville's understated narrative lulls readers, giving the later events of the book more power. Readers know Neville is laying the seeds of his own destruction, but will be surprised at how those seeds bloom -- Neville is undone in truly spectacular fashion by a force of nature he thought he had tamed. Give Split Image and the rest of Faust's canon a try -- you won't be disappointed.
As if in a dream, a washed-up Chicago playwright sleepwalks into murder, then into taking over the life of the man he killed.
Nobody knows that Andrew Neville is staying in a friend's hunting cabin in Wisconsin when he gets into a trivial fight with a stranger that leaves the stranger dead. Afterward, Neville wipes out every sign of his presence from the cabin and heads back home without leaving any paper trail. Despite his lack of premeditation, he's committed the perfect crime, one that's left no trace at the crime scene or within Neville himself, who keeps waiting to feel remorse or horror but feels only a vague stirring of satisfaction and renewed purpose. When Neville realizes he'd known John Dempsey from a theater group years ago, he decides to attend his funeral, purloins Dempsey's display handkerchief from his decorously arrayed body, and introduces himself to Dempsey's lovely wife Claudia, an actress who's feeling more frozen out than ever by her in-laws. It's a romance made in hell, but Neville is perfectly willing to pursue it in his mild, circumspect way, even though Roland Scheiss, the horrid lawyer hired by the elder Dempseys to investigate their son's murder, makes it clear that he assumes Neville conspired with Claudia to kill her husband and intends to gather enough evidence to blackmail them for a sizable chunk of Dempsey's estate. It's obvious that Neville's state of trancelike equilibriumas he ingratiates himself with a falcon Dempsey had been training and plots his theatrical comeback via a play of Dempsey'scan't last. But Dempsey's luminously understated narrative preserves a crystalline surface undisturbed by any ripple right up to the inevitable catastrophe, which is perhaps a bit too ironic for the generally hushed buildup.
No matter. The spare, surrealistic mastery of just the right detail makes this Faust's most rewarding thriller since his return to fiction with In the Forest of the Night (1992).