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IN BRIEF

Fiction

March 07, 1993|KAREN STABINER

DR. GUILLOTINE by Herbert Lom (Sinclair-Stevenson, distributed by Trafalgar Square: $24.95; 182 pp.). Herbert Lom is probably best known for playing the harried Inspector Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther films. In this novel he weaves a relationship among French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, his assassin Charlotte Corday and the good Dr. Joseph Guillotin. It's a rather odd choice of subject, with a surprising point of view: As Lom sees him, the good doctor was a misunderstood humanitarian, trying to improve the technology of executions to spare victims needless pain. When others used his efficient machine to increase the number of executions, a purpose Guillotin had not envisioned, he felt as bad, Lom speculates, as "Einstein must have felt when he saw that his atomic energy was being used for the Bomb." There is something amusing about Lom's attempt to see the inventor of the guillotine, a crazed killer and a bloodthirsty revolutionary as just another trio of crazies, part of a continuum throughout history. Still, this is an often awkward effort, not at all as seamlessly naughty as some of Lom's film performances.

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