March 28, 2005 12:00 PM

NOVEL

by Ian McEwan

Saturday is a three-legged pony that’s bound to slightly disappoint fans of McEwan’s last novel, the thoroughbred champ Atonement. This time McEwan wants to tell us about brain surgery, the situation in Iraq and a petty criminal with revenge on his decaying mind, but he can’t stitch it all together without the seams showing.

Neurosurgeon Henry Perowne enjoys a thriving practice and a happy marriage; he’d be a welcome guest at your dinner party, but McEwan pours so much rumination into him that few readers won’t be aching for someone to come along and kick the plot into gear.

The man who does so is Baxter, a violent creep whose car Perowne scrapes as he’s driving to a squash match. Baxter punches him and prepares to do worse, but the doctor has a trump: He pegs Baxter’s tics and mood swings as the product of a terminal brain illness. By talking about the disorder he’s diagnosed, Perowne manages to distract Baxter and escape.

It would be giving away too much to reveal that Baxter storms Perowne’s house—if the twist weren’t described on the book’s jacket. That scene, though it comes too late, is expertly choreographed and bathed in dread. McEwan’s sentences are perfect, and his novels are always powerful and intelligent. But never before has one felt a page too long.

MYSTERY

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