Blind Date: 1

Frances Fyfield, Author Viking Books $21.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-670-87889-5

Fyfield (Without Consent; A Question of Guilt) is an oddly elliptical writer whose stories often sneak up on the reader. In her newest, three plot lines, quite disparate at first, gradually intertwine. Elisabeth Kennedy is a former police detective who had apparently caught the man who murdered her sister, only to have a judge declare she had entrapped him. The man then killed himself--but was he the real murderer? Two of her friends sign up with an odd dating agency to find men, and one of them gets killed, another roughed up. Meanwhile some of Joe Maxell's friends are signed up with the same agency, and big, kindly Joe is trying to share the London church tower where Elisabeth lives: is it to protect her, and if so, from what? Can her young nephew, Matt, obsessed with the precious stones his grandfather may have squirreled away, have seen his mother's murderer? In the course of her cunningly plotted tale, Fyfield explores many anxieties afflicting Elisabeth, her widowed mother and other female characters: fear of loneliness, of being unloved, of losing one's home, of creating a child you can't control. Some of these considerations fail to convince; nor is Elisabeth believable as a former cop, and that the entire cast seems to know each other gives the book a strangely claustrophobic air. But Fyfield is a superb, effective stylist who creates a deliciously murky atmosphere and indelible characters. Author tour. (Sept.) FYI: Penguin will simultaneously publish the paperback edition of Without Consent.