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FICTION : PARADISE MAN by Jerome Charyn (Donald I. Fine: $17.95; 241 pp.).

March 08, 1987|Mark Schorr

It's a tough life for Holden, the hit man. He commits a contract murder, and is forced to adopt a mysterious little girl who witnessed the crime. The denizens of the Cuban underworld, including practitioners of santeria , Cuban voodoo, are leaving him dead roosters as unexplained threats. All the people he trusts--his partner in the fur business, his lawyer, his informants--are betraying him. He's lost his first love to his boss, an elderly, manipulative Swiss.

Jerome Charyn creates intriguing larger-than-life characters, from the dapper Holden, to his fellow "bumpers," the rats who give information, and the madrinas who keep santeria alive.

The publisher promotes this as "A Novel About a Hit Man and His True Love." Comparisons with "Prizzi's Honor" are inevitable. Charyn, author of 19 previous books, proves himself as talented a writer as Richard Condon in conveying a surreal, violent world, tinged with black humor.

Unlike "Prizzi's Honor," the love interest here is not a rival hit person, but a sociologist alienated from her playwright husband and district attorney father-in-law. Holden meets her when he rescues her from mob kidnapers, who happen to be his friends.

There's no shortage of action in this fast-moving novel, which also has Holden searching for clues about his father, a crooked MP who chauffeured the manipulative Swiss.

This is a wonderful tale of manipulation, murder, and a man trying to find himself as his world slowly unravels.

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