THE COVENANT OF THE FLAME.David Morrell.Warner.452 pages....



David Morrell.


452 pages. $19.95. Environmental magazine writer Tess Drake was too busy for love. It seemed that suddenly, people responsible for destroying the environment themselves were getting destroyed. And while Tess didn't condone the actions, they were demanding her full attention. Then she met Joseph, an enigmatic, gray-eyed stranger who swore he could never be her lover but would always be her friend.

When Joseph's burned body is found, Tess decides to find out who he was and why he was killed. She ends up uncovering two centuries-old religious factions bent not only on destroying one another, but anyone who stumbles onto their secrets.

While the ideas in "The Covenant of the Flame" are interesting enough to support a novel, they are not enough to carry one, as they are forced to do here. Atypically, Mr. Morrell's central character is neither likable nor believable, the supporting cast is paper-thin and the dialogue is stilted throughout. This uninvolving novel is a most disappointing effort from an author who's proved so often he can be one of the best.

Martin Duberman's mother used to warn him never to walk through a park alone for fear of the sick people who lingered

within. But one night in college, he found himself wandering through Yale University's "Green" after too many drinks and stopping near a gay man, whom he began to fondle. "I had become," he realized, "the person my mother had warned me about." Later that night, Mr. Duberman stayed in the shower for hours, "cleaning, cleaning."

It was a ritual of forgetting and denial that he practiced until recently, from psychiatrist's offices ("your heterosexual yearnings can be unblocked," he is told) to academe, where he became a historian: a "comparably painless collective memory," he explains, which offered refuge from personal memory. "Cures" is an eloquent act of remembrance. Mr. Duberman's gay pride still is in evolution (he fictionalizes the names of his friends), but his rebellion against the homophobic culture that left him feeling emotionally stunted and physically crippled is resolute. Criticizing those therapists who function more as "culture police" than as scientists, he suggests that "it is surely time to ask whether gay women and men might not themselves qualify as 'experts' on their own lives."

Rebellion by children in the 1960s took many forms. Catherine Eliot's style was not ban-the-bomb placards or anti-war demonstrations. After graduating from high school, she shocked and alienated her upper-class family by eschewing college or marriage to work in a flower shop. Using her business instincts, ++ hard work and love for flowers, Catherine soon became the manager of the store and ultimately bought it.

She renamed it Blooms and it became the trendiest florist in New York. As Catherine's business successes mounted, she worried about the price to be exacted for choosing her own path in life. Catherine's doubts intensified when the man she loved married a woman his family chose for him. Catherine sought refuge with the passionate Piet Vandervoid. But things were not quite that simple or easily resolved.

In her previous novels, Nancy Thayer gained a solid reputation for writing about compassionate women. "Everlasting" will only add to that status. Catherine is a wonderfully original character. From New York to Amsterdam, the financial side of flowers is fascinating, and Ms. Thayer shares much of its lore with the reader.


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