Michael Knight opens his first novel, The Divining Rod, with a murder. It only takes two pages to discover the showdown on the front lawn of Sam Holladay, which kills Simon Bell, is actually the conclusion of the novel. Before you get angry with the reviewer for giving away the ending, remember it is Knight that does it. Normally such a narrative move would absolutely sink a novel, appearing as a cheap gimmick. However, Knight's risk pays solid dividends. Even though the reader is constantly aware of whatis going to happen, Knight's slow unraveling and deliberate description make engaging reading. Simon Bell, a lonely lawyer of 28, moves into his late mother's suburban spread. Complete with a pool and a view of the golf course, the house seems to haunt Simon, who wallows in a funk that belies his surroundings. He wonders about his mother's years-ago affair and befriends Betty Fowler, a widow who wants to learn to cuss (Simon obliges). Betty, the substitute for Simon's dead mother, walks the golf course with a divining rod, searching futilely for the gold coins her dead husband says he buried in a fairway. Simon also begins an affair with Delia Holladay, the wife of his neighbor Sam, an older history professor. Most of the novel traces their stolen moments, hidden evening and blooming love. Together they search for clues to Simon's mother's affair, swim in the pool and endlessly try to justify what they are doing. Obviously, it ends very badly. Knight's understated prose gives the book its power, moving slowly, but fully, though the gamut of his character's emotions Sam's concern that his wife is too young; Simon's overwhelming sadness; Delia's rationalizations and bald-faced lies; Betty's Sisyphus-like dedication to finding the hidden treasure. The mysticism motif of Betty's quest with the divining rod seems slightly forced, a symbol of blind faith juxtaposed with the transgression of Simon and Delia's affair. Despite this glitch, Knight's debut is still impressive. He crafts excellent supporting characters and captures the jejune existence of suburban life its emotional facades, material trappings, and undercurrent of blase resignation. Knight, who concurrently has published a well-received collection of short stories, Dogfight, proves himself a fresh, formidable talent in The Divining Rod, and he has breathed new life into the world's oldest story. Mark Luce is a writer in Lawrence, Kansas.

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