A Novel of Mystery and Redemption

By M. Scott Peck

Bantam. 306 pp. $18.95 END NOTES

If you or I had written "A Bed by the Window," odds are that it would not have been published. At least not in its present state. The plot is limp. The dialogue creaks. Too many of the characters are mere mouthpieces for homilies that M. Scott Peck has delivered in his nonfiction mega-sellers, "The Road Less Traveled" and "People of the Lie" (where, of course, such dicta belong).

Which makes me wonder how it is that the book comes with cover endorsements from folks who ought to know better (Phyllis Theroux, Madeleine L'Engle). I mean, even the New York Times Book Review called the novel "moving and brave."

Alas, I call it boring. Also curiously kinky. But let's do boring first.

The action -- or maybe that's too strong a word; maybe I ought to say activity -- takes place in a nursing home called Willow Glen. After we've read through a third of the book (an interesting third, actually, because Peck gives us a clear and seemingly accurate look at nursing home routine), a murder takes place. A detective named Petri, who boasts that he was trained not to jump to conclusions, jumps to one anyway and proceeds to hound his number one suspect. Ah, but a patient who has been proclaimed senile puts Petri on the right track and the real murderer is thus revealed. In terms of plot, that's all. Oh, sure, there are subplots, but this is the novel's spine.

The book lacks suspense, lacks even surprise. Nor does Peck appear to feel the need for either. When the murderer is unmasked, it's with a resounding So What? And forget comeuppance.

What we get instead is deliverance. By this I mean that several -- possibly way too many -- characters have psycho-spiritual turnarounds in these pages. Bo-ring.

But is it ever kinky! For starters, we have a gorgeous nurse fellating a spastic patient, which the book quite clearly posits as a plus. We have a character who, when he learns what the nurse has done, is troubled because, throughout his youth, his own mother had regularly done the same to him. The matter-of-fact dialogue via which this is revealed is an inadvertent hoot: "Then one evening, when I was about 12... ."

But wait, there's more! We have a person of high position who drinks to achieve "that sweet level of anesthesia where the body was calm, where she no longer needed that thing -- the vibrator -- that sat at the bottom of her top bureau drawer." And, finally, we have my personal favorite, the character who becomes aroused "at the thought of discipline, at the word itself... ." Mercy, Dr. Peck!

Gentle reader, before you bomb my car or poison my dog or even write me letters, let it be known that I am not a prude. What I am is puzzled to find all of this high-pitched be-bop (completely devoid of eroticism, by the way) in a book that's billed as "a novel of mystery and redemption."

And I'm more than puzzled, I'm perplexed, maybe even confounded by the mental meanderings of the book's psychiatrist, another one of the alleged good guys, who tells one of his patients, " 'Maybe God is calling you through sex. Maybe God wants you for Himself.' " What does this mean? It doesn't get any clearer when the shrink admonishes, " 'Go back and read the Song of Solomon... . This business about God being the 'Bridegroom' didn't come out of thin air, you know.' " A passage like this one tempts me to make irreligious jokes but I know Peck's fans are legion and I know that Peck is, well, at least earnest.

I know too that I'm going to be outnumbered on this one. Many folks, enough to put "A Bed by the Window" on some bestseller list, will find this book ennobling. So be it. These are sappy times.

But, hey. I'm here to consider "A Bed by the Window" as a murder mystery, right? Well, as a murder mystery, it is desultory and lackluster and sexual high jinks aren't enough to save it.

The reviewer is the author of a number of erotic short stories in addition to her suspense novels.