By Megan Harlan
Updated July 19, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Successful attorney Jake Schiff and his social worker wife are renovating their posh new Manhattan town house. Besmirching their upscale bliss is ”Mr. Crazy Rambling Smelly Homeless Guy” (as Jake calls him) John Gates, who — wielding a box cutter — grows violently obsessed with the Schiffs. When the system fails to protect his family, Jake hires a thug to rough John up — but a horrible mistake leads to Jake facing murder charges. What saves this teeth-gritting tale from merely manipulating upper-middle-class, urban Cape Fear paranoia is how author Peter Blauner carefully sidesteps easy alignments of victim and perpetrator, thanks to multifaceted, nuanced characterizations of both men. In The Intruder, John comes across as equally scary and tragic (and his life on the streets chillingly palpable); Jake’s shortsighted machismo is the flaw in an otherwise good man. As each tries desperately to gain control over his own downwardly spiraling life, Blauner forces their psychological struggles toward a disturbing, cathartic climax. A-