Short Takes: Aug. 10, 1992

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Existential thrillers are the UFOs of literature. Everybody has heard about them, but few have actually seen one. A. Alvarez's DAY OF ATONEMENT (Random House; $21) is the real thing: the story of the Constantines, a middle-aged couple with one friend too many. Tommy Apple dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving his property to Joe, whom he liked, and Judy, whom he loved. The estate turns out to be worth millions -- some of it from drug sales. Moral and marital dilemmas, close-ups of traffic-jammed London, episodes with dealers and police provide enough suspense to fuel a dozen novels. It is unlikely that any could keep pace with the work of Alvarez, whose most famous book, The Savage God, was a study of suicide. This one examines homicide, with even more disturbing results.

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