Thorpe's (Ulverton) accomplished novel begins with a beautifully sustained evocation of a childhood in the Cameroons, circa 1925. Hugh Arkwright is the son of a jazz-age flapper and a WWI vet now stationed in equatorial Africa, where the lessons the boy absorbs, especially concerning the continued presence of the dead in the living world, come to form his core beliefs. Some mystery about Hugh's relationship to his parents nags at him, however, and when he is sent away, at seven, to school in England, he wonders if his parents have other reasons for getting rid of him. On holidays, he stays in rural Ulverton with his eccentric uncle, Edward Arnold, an Aleister Crowley-type figure who is a celebrity in occult circles. When Hugh's mother is reported to have disappeared into the jungle, Hugh knows he will never return to Africa. The novel then skips ahead, abruptly, to Hugh in his 70s, and takes on the form of journal-like letters to his long-vanished mother. Hugh has become a famous theater director, but he has never recovered from the loss of his one true love, Rachael, to Uncle Edward, who married her in the '40s while Hugh was in the air force. When his uncle and then Rachael die, Hugh returns to their house in Ulverton and stumbles upon clues leading him to believe that his uncle was a madman, and that his mother's life didn't end in Africa. But Hugh is increasingly overwrought, and it becomes difficult to trust his account; his psychological disarray makes him a target for the police when a man is found murdered on his property. Thorpe's intensely evocative prose, and his poetic imagination, create a mesmerizing narrative. Winding together different strands from the past and present into a suspenseful, and ultimately poignant, whole, Thorpe approaches the achievements of postimperial British writers like Paul Scott and J.G. Ballard. Agent, Bill Hamilton. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.