Veteran novelist Howard Fast shows his versatility as a storyteller with his latest work, Redemption, which combines several popular genres into a no-frills entertainment that will undoubtedly please his many fans.

The novel opens with New York detectives searching the Wall Street offices of murdered broker William Sedgewick Hopper, shot once through the back of the head as he was about to sign a $1,000,000 check. There are many clues in the case which soon reveal that Hopper was quite corrupt and ruthless in his financial practices. He was a much-hated man under the growing scrutiny of the law.

A month earlier, Ike Goldman, a 78-year-old retired law professor from Columbia University, comes to the rescue of a much younger woman, Elizabeth Hopper, as she is about to take a suicidal plunge from one of New York City's most celebrated bridges. Something clicks reluctantly between this distraught young woman and the compassionate senior. It is to Fast's credit that this May-December relationship is handled with a simple, tasteful restraint, rather than the usual dirty-old-man leering approach. He makes their emotional union seem as natural as breathing, without the slightest hint of lewdness or vulgarity.

Despite the warning of several friends, Goldman opens his life to Liz, as he calls her, deeply touched by this vibrant woman who has reached out to him. She, in turn, is won over by his generosity and compassion for her troubled life. He gives to her without asking anything in return. While sex is an important glue in most relationships, it is the shared spiritual, emotional awakening that both people experience that strengthens their bond.

All of that is shattered with the murder of her husband, the infamous Mr. Hopper, who she later confesses beat and abused her viciously. With his trademark clean, uncluttered prose, Fast saves his best work for the courtroom drama that unfolds in the latter part of the book. If there is a defect, it is that this portion of the story is somewhat rushed, not giving the reader the full benefit of the suspense generated here. That is heightened when Liz's defense team suffers a few setbacks during the proceedings, offering every indication things will end badly for the woman.

Regardless of the occasional abruptly ended scene or slight stiffness in some of the dialogue, Redemption continues the lengthy career of Howard Fast with great distinction. It is the perfect book for a relaxing afternoon at the beach, deftly entertaining but never challenging or too demanding.

Robert Fleming is a journalist in New York City.

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