THERE CAME A PROUD BEGGAR by Mark Linder (Carroll & Graf: $18.95). A famous novelist named Jacob is lured into the clutches of an old lady living in Maine with her mysterious young nurse. Jacob becomes convinced that the old lady has a wonderful story, a "hot property" that requires his special genius. After a summer as her handyman and collaborator, Jacob discovers that another writer (his arch-nemesis) is at work on the same material. The action then switches to New York and Virginia, where Jacob unravels a real murder mystery involving the old lady and learns the climactic key to her story.
What recommends this lengthy first novel are some lovely descriptive touches and Mark Linder's humane sensitivity. What makes it tedious--an ungripping plot, stock characterizations and pedestrian writing, i.e., unimportant detail duly rendered on every page. The choice of a supposedly brilliant writer narrating the tale, unfortunately, provides a glaring contrast to the undergraduate prose of this earnest first effort. Nonetheless, there is a magnetism to this novel despite its almost laughable self-image.