Sunday, March 24, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print



Special To The Seattle Times

----------------------------------------------------------------- "Atticus" by Ron Hansen HarperCollins, $22 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Ron Hansen has always had literary pretensions, whether writing historical fiction such as "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" or women's mysteries such as "Mariette in Ecstasy." At times, he's almost too self-consciously literary: His favorite habit is turning adjectives and nouns like "pink," "noise" and "monster" into verbs.

This tendency is thankfully muted in "Atticus" as 67-year-old Atticus Cody, a stalwart Colorado farmer, refused to put up with such shenanigans. And the story isn't bad. Atticus is estranged from his 40-year-old son, Scott, who was responsible for his mother's death in a car accident two decades earlier. When Scott visits one Christmas, Hansen creates an underlying tension that feels disconcertingly familiar: As Tolstoy observed, each family's problems may be different, but the tensions are the same.

But just like that, Scott is back in Mexico, where he lives in an expatriate community, and the tension evaporates with him. Then he kills himself. While retrieving the body, Atticus suspects murder, and a whole new book, a mystery, arises from the ashes of the first.

Hansen gets in some nice digs at the frivolous nature of expatriate communities, and it's interesting having such an Ancient Mariner for a protagonist. But the mystery is convoluted, and a great opportunity - Scott's journal - is squandered. My advice: Wait for the movie.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


Get home delivery today!