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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Eye of the Beholder

by
Marc Behm


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Eye of the Beholder



Title: The Eye of the Beholder
Author: Marc Behm
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980
Length: 208 pages
Availability: The Eye of the Beholder - US
The Eye of the Beholder - UK
The Eye of the Beholder - Canada
Mortelle randonnée - France
Das Auge - Deutschland
L'occhio che guarda - Italia
La mirada del observador - España
DVD: Mortelle randonnée - US
Mortelle randonnée - UK
Eye of the Beholder - US
Eye of the Beholder - UK
  • The Eye of the Beholder has been made into a film twice:
    • As Mortelle randonnée, also released as Deadly Circuit (in the US) and Deadly Run (in the UK); 1983, directed by Claude Miller and starring Michel Serrault and Isabelle Adjani
    • As Eye of the Beholder, 1999, directed by Stephan Elliott and starring Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd

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Our Assessment:

B+ : over the top, but with an almost epic grandeur to it

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Kirkus Reviews . 1/1/1979 .
El País . 17/11/2017 Juan Carlos Galindo


  From the Reviews:
  • "Behm's basic idea here has possibilities, but it doesn't fill a novel: his shuttling across the country after Joanna would give even a travel agent headaches, with a pace that's kept over-busy to disguise a narrative interest that has palled early on. Repetitious, fairly depraved and skanky stuff, then; titillating for a short while, finally a hyperactive bore." - Kirkus Reviews

  • "Detrás tenemos a una mujer desesperada, una psicópata hábil, una excelente jugadora, una amante bisexual, un personaje tristísimo. Es decir, uno de los mejores perfiles femeninos de la historia del género negro. (...) Las sensaciones al leer este relato que también está lleno de violencia son extrañas." - Juan Carlos Galindo, El País

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Eye of the Beholder is a quite ridiculous story, an extreme voyeur, stalker, and killer tale; to say it strains credulity would be putting it mildly. And yet, in its aspirations to the epic and its level of commitment, on the part of both author and characters, it does sweep the reader along.
       The Eye of the Beholder follows a character known only as 'the Eye' as he becomes obsessed with and follows Joanna Eris, a true femme fatale (with an emphasis on the 'fatal' for those she sets her sights on). The two repeatedly criss-cross America, for more than a decade, the Eye less hunter than shadow, always lurking near.
       The Eye is a private investigator for Watchmen, Inc. when he first encounters Joanna -- then going under the name Lucy Brentano. The wealthy parents of recent college graduate Paul Hugo are worried about this girl their wayward-tending son has gotten involved with, and the Eye is put on the case. No sooner does he start tailing the young lovebirds than he finds them finding their way to city hall, getting hitched. The Eye follows them on their honeymoon getaway -- and, as much peeping tom as investigator, watches the new bride very calmly kill her husband, dispose of his body, and then get a good night's sleep.
       The Eye follows her home, to her hotel in New York, where the house dick tells him her name is Eve Granger. As the Eye soon figures out: she has a lot of aliases, and a lot of wigs. And before the day is out, she has her hooks in her next victim -- and is playing bride again, as Josephine Brunswick:

     She killed a man last night and robbed him of eighteen thousand dollars. She was going to kill again tonight for twenty thousand.
       She isn't exactly a black widow -- she doesn't look to inherit. She's in it for the quick score.
       The Eye is transfixed. When she buries the second man, he's concerned about the shallowness of the grave she dug. No one will be looking for the supposed honeymooners for a while, but:
The freshly turned earth was a giveaway. And rats or foxes might uncover it. He took the shovel from the carport. He dug up the body, hauled it into the woods. He dug up another hole in a patch of ferns. He reburied it, refilled the hole, came back to the clearing just as she climbed out of the tub.
       He should, of course, alert the police, and his employers. He should turn her in. Instead, he becomes a watcher, and occasional guardian angel, unseen in the shadows.
       Both the Eye and the woman carry a great melancholy sadness in them. One that has numbed them, and completely controls and defines them. The Eye has a daughter, Maggie, but his wife abandoned him with her when she was just one; he's never seen them since, and for all his investigative skill has never been able to track them down. When she was eight, the Eye's mother sent him a picture of: "fifteen little girls sitting at tables in a classroom" -- without telling him which one was Maggie. He still carries the picture with hiim, and studies it constantly. Trying to figure out which one might have been his daughter, and imagining what might have become of her. Meanwhile, Joanna lost her father when she was young, at Christmas, and had a difficult childhood .....
       Of course, Joanna is about Maggie's age, and the Eye can see his daughter in this homicidal maniac; he can't help himself, and so, with a delicate parental touch, he keeps careful close watch over her. And, like her, he's otherwise completely detached: her killings don't move either of them, for example, barely even registering; their only concern is that she not get caught.
       The Eye figures out her true identity, and looks into her past. He finds one person Joanna was close to; the difficult circumstances of the time might explain some of the grimness, but obviously aspects of it were fundamental to Joanna:
I'd bring a bottle of cognac. We'd get undressed and get drunk. We'd dance. We'd sit on the floor and talk. Or play chess. I forgot o tell you, I taught her how to play chess, or tried to. It was a dismal failure. Then we'd make love. Only it was more like despair than love. Desolation. Another form of insanity and suicide.
       The Eye follows Joanna -- panicking when he loses track, but then picking up the trail again. He gets to know her better -- not personally, not ever personally; he's practically invisible to her, even when their lives brush against each other -- but by watching. Her habits. What she reads. Who she's killed -- "Seven of them he's sure of. Four husbands" is an early tally.
       The Eye is given a surprisingly long leash by his employer, who think he's still on the original case (as, indeed, he sort of is); it's a while before they actually fire him. He has saving to last him three years, he figures; as it turns out he keeps going considerably longer, adding to his savings where needed much like Joanna does: through gambling and robbery (though he's not a killer). His obsession -- a twin obsession: the lost daughter he sees: "wherever he looked" and murderous Joanna -- consumes his life. It is his life
       There are periods of calm, and others of frenzied activity:
One busy afternoon on Route 68, between Campbellsville and Edmondton, she hit four men in a row. Only two of her victims died.
       Sometimes there's a rush of movement; other times she stays put for a while. Once, there even seems to be the possibility of things turning around, of Joanna marrying a man and actually settling down. Unsurprisingly, the man is blind. Unsurprisingly, the fates don't permit it.
       Another relationship also comes to a violent end, and Joanna doesn't take it well: "She killed seven men that night".
       And everywhere she goes, everything she does, the Eye follows, in the shadows.
       Time passes:
     Five long years passed; five Christmases and five birthdays. And nine more men ... no, ten, eleven ... the Eye tried to remember.
     Ten or eleven.
     She married three of them.
       Of course, the authorities are after her. They're onto her -- but always several aliases and cities behind. But they're working away:
They came after her slowly and massively, like a moving glacier. But they couldn't overtake her. Although she blazed a trail, she never stopped fleeing. And because she had no direction, they were unable to intercept her.
       They're not the only ones, either. A few men whose path she has crossed continue to sniff around and occasionally appear.
       Eventually, Joanna seems to tire of her rampaging ways. She takes regular jobs, though she remains repeatedly on the run. Eventually she tries to settle down in a more humdrum life. And the Eye thinks maybe he can salvage something. But the fates, the fates .....
       Part of what makes this ridiculous story work is that Behm presents his two main characters as epic figures. The rough edges of realism keep the appearances of a hardboiled real-life tale, but the Eye (!) and constantly-(superficial-)identity-shifting Joanna are otherworldly, larger than life.
       The basic premises alone are absurd, from how easily Joanna gets away with murder -- she often plans cleverly, and the Eye occasionally helps cover her tracks, but there are so many bodies ... -- to the Eye being able to stay on her tail and not lose touch over all those years, almost without interruption, especially given how quickly she changes plans, and how much she moves about. Among much else, it is also unbelievable that Joanna doesn't notice the man who constantly hovers and lurks nearby -- alone from the many flights on which he sits a few seats away. Yet Behm convincingly suggest how she sees him, and doesn't, on the few occasions when they do more obviously meet
       The Eye of the Beholder is a novel spanning surprisingly many years, too. Behm nicely reminds of unchanging sameness with a few things that carry through: not only the Eye's obsession with his daughter, but that picture he carries with him, and his daydreams about the girls in it. There's his crossword habit, and the one clue that it takes him years to solve. And Joanna too has her predictable fallbacks -- Hamlet, cognac, certain pieces of music. There are horoscopes, of course. Behm does this atmospheric stuff very well, his screenwriting practice on obvious display here -- these are the kind of things that one gives viewers to associate with characters over the course of a ninety-minute or two-hour film, and they work very well here too.
       The Eye of the Beholder is, in many ways, a silly and in parts disturbing novel. But there's an epic grandeur to it too, and for all the senseless slaughter, the deaths are almost classical -- even in being almost merely incidental.
       It is an unusual but accomplished work, even with all its various rough edges.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 February 2018

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Links:

The Eye of the Beholder: Reviews: The Eye of the Beholder - the film versions: Marc Behm: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author and screenwriter Marc Behm lived 1925 to 2007.

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© 2018 the complete review

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