Title: "The Gargoyle"

Author: Andrew Davidson

Publisher: Doubleday

Price: $25.95

It's hard to know whether the self-described crispy critter at the center of Andrew Davidson's unsettling debut novel is more or less loathsome after he's hideously disfigured in a fiery car crash, but one thing's for certain: He's going to mesmerize you with his story.

The unnamed protagonist in "The Gargoyle" is flying high on cocaine and alcohol when he crashes his car, it catches fire and he's trapped inside as the flames consume him. He loses toes, fingers, ears and skin. He loses that part of his anatomy that gave him his brilliant albeit seedy career as a porn star and film producer.

Landing in a hospital in an unidentified city, he undergoes months of treatments and surgeries to mend his charred flesh. His plan: to get well enough to leave the hospital and kill himself.

But that all changes when he is visited in the burn unit by Marianne Engel, a sculptor of gargoyles who claims she knew and loved him 700 years before.

Marianne may be crazy, but she's a consummate storyteller. She recounts how, in medieval Germany, our protagonist was a severely burned mercenary and she was a nun in a monastery where his comrades brought him for medical help. Marianne nursed him back to health, and it's during that period that they fell in love.

Readers reluctant to read a book packed with graphic details about the pain suffered by a burn patient should take a deep breath and plunge into this novel.

It's a tale of love and redemption told through Davidson's haunting prose. He rewards readers with an unforgettable romance, although some may find the ending overly simplistic.