Death of the Black-Haired Girl

Robert Stone rightly can be considered an American master on the basis of just three novels, Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise and Damascus Gate. Unfortunately, he’s written several others that aren’t on the same level, including this one. There are powerful moments in this tale of the wages of sin, and some of the characters are memorable, but overall it doesn’t cohere. Set on a New England college campus, it’s about what happens when professor Steven Brookman decides to end his affair with a brilliant but mercurial student, Maud Stack, the “black-haired girl” of the title. Having learned that his wife is pregnant, he decides protecting his family is more important than loving this young woman. She’s having none of it; consumed by passion, she comes after him, and soon enough everybody around her is caught up in the drama—even more so when she is killed in a hit-and-run accident for which her father, Eddie, a dying New York City cop, blames Brookman. Eddie Stack is a richly realized character, something that can’t be said of Maud, much less several others—Brookman’s wife, Ellie, for example—in this tale of love gone wrong.