Peter Abrahams, Author . Ballantine $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-345-43938-3

Remember Norman Bates, the über-creep from Hitchcock's Psycho? Julian Sawyer, the title character in Abrahams's latest suspense yarn, is clearly cut from the same cloth—a creep in sheep's clothing. Once again this author finds menace in dailiness, as he creates a scenario that's firmly grounded in real life, but which becomes increasingly (and fascinatingly) skewed—Leave It to Beaver meets I Know What You Did Last Summer. Things begin routinely enough when Linda and Scott Gardner hire Julian to improve the less-than-acceptable SAT scores of their teenage son, Brandon. But before you can say "just like Norman Bates," the seemingly affable, helpful Julian earns the Gardners' trust and subtly exploits each family member's weakness in an attempt to topple their suburban house of cards. While Abrahams slowly ratchets up the tension, readers will discover that professional backstabbing, financial ruin and even murder are all within the scope of this tutor's lesson plans. As usual, the author's ear for the diverse details of everyday life is sharp; indeed, our empathy with these characters' recognizable quirks cleverly serves as a sort of buffer against the sinister goings-on—until it's nearly too late. Though all the characters here are deftly drawn (even Zippy, the Gardners' pooch, demonstrates an endearing personality in a brief, nonspeaking role), one merits special mention: not only is the immensely precocious Ruby Gardner passionate about Sherlock Holmes and anything colored blue and yellow, but she's wise well beyond her 11 years and almost smart enough to outfox Julian. Put it this way: if The Tutor were a TV show, Ruby would be spun off into her own series in a Hollywood minute. (July)

Forecast:Parents bemoaning prep course costs will enjoy seeing their darkest imaginings enacted, and fans will be snagged by sample chapters in mass market editions of Last of the Dixie Heroes, The Fan and Lights Out.

Reviewed on: 07/01/2002
Release date: 06/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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