Marc Behm's novel Eye of the Beholder starts out like a standard private eye whodunit. The private detective is asked to find out about a woman by wealthy parents. This woman is involved with their college age son, and the parents are concerned. The private detective, who is only referred to as "The Eye" agrees to find out about her. Watchman Inc., the agency he works for, has had him doing office work since he shot and killed someone he was supposed to be following.
The Eye is middle-aged. He does crossword puzzles to preoccupy his mind, because he thinks he is going crazy. He can't finish Number Seven, the clue is that it is the capital of Czechoslovakia. He has a picture of fifteen young school girls, one of them his daughter, but he doesn't know which one. The mother of his child wrote him a note when she sent it to him to guess which one was his. He obsesses about her, imagining scenes where he meets her. He tries to imagine each girl in the picture as his daughter.
The Eye follows the woman and the son, watches them get money out of the son's account, watches them get married, and watches the woman kill the son on their wedding night. He does nothing about it. She takes off the wig she was wearing and disposes of the body. He follows the woman as she puts on a different wig and go to a New York hotel where she is known as a regular customer.
The woman, Joanna Eris repeats the practice of marrying and destroying men in several states. At no time does The Eye attempt to stop her. He is, after all, The Eye. He sees, observes, follows. He acts only when he thinks Joanna is in danger. He never acts to protect the people she intends to kill. He transfers his obsessions about his daughter to Joanna.
She, in turn, finds the ghostly presence of The Eye as the spirit of the father that left her when she was very young. At first she thinks someone is following her, but then she thinks it's her imagination that has made him up. Her father has become her imaginary protector.
At one point Joanna meets a man who is blind. He is not attracted to her for her outward beauty. Though he is blind, he can "see" her unlike the men she seduces sees her. He helps her start a book store. They plan to get married. Then, at a surreal section of the story, The Eye inadvertently causes a traffic accident which kills the blind man.
The Eye loses track of Joanna. He eventually finds her in a hospital, she lost the blind man's unborn child that she was carrying. It represents the death of hope for her character. Months turn into years, The Eye long since losing his job, lives off his savings and gambling. He learns that Joanna was sent to prison for shoplifting as a youth, where she became involved with the prison counselor. She (the counselor) introduces Joanna to her favorite food, pears, astrology, and the love that dare not speak it's name.
Late in the novel she befriends a girl that robs her earlier in the story, and the two develop a healthy relationship. For money they rob convenience stores, and she is tragically killed. Fate seems to keep Joanna from finding happiness. The Eye only watches.
He watches until the years have moved into a new decade. He becomes arthritic. She becomes despondent, and the FBI, who have figured out her m.o. are closing in. Joanna, waitressing at a small restaurant, is oblivious to her former counselor, an FBI agent, one of her former lovers, and another witness that can identify her as they eat. They believe she is working there, and are preparing to arrest her. The Eye gets money, a gun filled with blanks, and pretends not to know her. He "picks her up" saving her from being caught. She shoots him with the gun he's loaded blanks in, takes his money and leaves. Before shooting him she tells him he looks familiar to her.
She flees in one of his cars. He takes another and follows her. She drives recklessly, and drives off the road and is killed. She tells him she knows who he is, that he took a picture of her in the park with his client's son. From the flames of the billboard she crashes into he finds the answer to the crossword puzzle question that has plagued him for all these years.
Near the end of his life, The Eye asks a priest he befriends in the last years of his life what God sees when he sees us. "Whatsoever he beholdeth is for his eyes only," the priest replies. This, of course, sums up the novel. How each person saw Joanna depended on the personality of that individual. The good people, like the blind man, saw her as a person. Most of the others saw her as a conquest. The Eye saw her as a child that had lost her way. His child and his "inviolate bride".
Lovers of the classic private detective yarn will probably be put off by the surreal elements of this novel. For those that are hooked on stories of obsession, however, this is right up your alley.
All text (C) 2000 LCB
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