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The Poisoned Rose, D. Daniel Judson, Bantam, $6.50.

The Poisoned Rose by D. Daniel Judson

D. Daniel Judson's look at the world is bleaker than Estleman's, and if his knowledge of the inside of a bottle didn't come to him first hand, he certainly knows how to do research. The adopted son of a wealthy family, main character Declan MacManus (or "Mac") is now an alcoholic living above a bar doing odd jobs for very little money. He lives in the Hamptons, but it's not the Hamptons you may have seen magazine articles about - it's a seedy look at the underside of wealth and all the poisons that a family can lob at each other, and get away with - because of their wealth. A set up doesn't get much more noir than that.

In classic noir fashion, Judson doesn't take the easy route to get to his story, but rather the circuitous one - sometimes you as a reader may be one step ahead of him, sometimes not. He's propelled by events rather than events propelling him - and while his code of honor may not be so obviously on his sleeve as Amos Walker's, it's still there, buried under a heavy fog of booze and regret. It's obvious enough to fellow hired heavy, Augie, who starts out full of distrust, but comes to respect Mac when they're both put to the test. And it's obvious to Augie's daughter, Tina, when Mac saves her from a rape, and then in quick order gets her father to a hospital after a horrible beating in time to save his life.

The feelings of the adolescent Tina and Mac's refusal to act on them (though wouldn't it have been even more noir if he had?) are a parallel to the fate of a girl Mac had grown up with, saved when she was 10, and fails to recognize when he meets her as an adult. This is a novel about what might have been, what is, regret, and guilt, and Judson layers them all beautifully. While his world may be a bit to dark for me to take in more than one book at a time, it's certainly a vision I'd like to revisit. This talented author has two books out - the first is titled The Bone Orchard - and I'd recommend them both.

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