By People Staff
October 13, 1997 12:00 PM

by Denis Johnson

Murderers and dope fiends never sounded so poetic as they do in this tale of narcissistic, Nietzsche-obsessed antiheroes. Northern California pot grower Nelson Fairchild Jr., hunted by hit men avenging a broken drug deal, decides to arrange the murder of his estranged wife in order to claim an inheritance, thereby igniting a series of double crosses and killings shadowed by the supernatural. Call it The Ghost Man Always Rings Twice.

However, this is anything but a conventional murder mystery set in a murky criminal demimonde. The riddle that most disturbs this cast of creeps and weirdos is existence. It’s also not an easy read; like William Faulkner, novelist and poet Denis Johnson is fond of convoluted time schemes and syntax; and, like Faulkner, he flits around a series of narrators, some of whom are completely insane. What makes the book hard to put down, even when the plot plods, is the operatic grandeur of Johnson’s prose, which is sometimes beautiful and often hypnotic. The witch in the book isn’t the only one who knows how to enchant. (Harper Collins, $25)