THIS IS NOT A BOOK to read late at night in your lovely restored house on Old Town; indeed, it's not a book to read late at night in any house anywhere. David and Roberta Jardell move into a beauty of an antebellum residence in the historic section of Charleston, and strange things soon begin to happen. First, Roberta sees a ghostly stranger in her bedroom three nights running, whereupon her infant son dies suddenly and mysteriously. Then she begins noticing how very, very spooky her adopted daughter Ariel has become, and an old lover reappears, asking pointed questions about the dead baby, and her husband and the lover both start to act a little oddly, and then Roberta really begins to lose her grip. It all may have something to do with a long-ago resident of the old house, or with Ariel's unknown biological ancestry, or maybe both. Or maybe neither.

This book could easily have been a mess, what with all the vague and unresolved hints about supernatural skulduggery floating around, but Block handles his material like a pro, and it goes down as smoothly as the brandy David Jardell tripples every night. Block lets us see his characters' minds gradually deteriorate, mainly through well-crafted dialogue. Especially good are the funny, tart and really quite scary exchanges between Ariel and her classmate Erskine, a young standout in a cast of amiable wierdos. The book is so readable, and so deliciously creepy that you don't care how preposterous it really is.