The Souvenir

Patricia Carlon, Author Soho Press $20 (0p) ISBN 978-1-56947-048-0

Lean and tricky, this psychological twister from Australian Carlon (The Whispering Wall) invites comparison to Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell in her Barbara Vine mode and even Heavenly Creatures, the recent celluloid revision of the real crime in crime novelist Anne Perry's youth. Four years have passed since two teenage girls, Sandra Kilby and Peta Squire, stole mementos and forged an uneasy friendship on a hitchhiking adventure. Their odyssey ended in tragedy when they argued in a park and a young man who tried to intervene was stabbed to death. Both girls claimed innocence, and the police were unable to break either alibi, even though one of them was clearly lying. Now Marion Burton, the victim's sister, hires investigator Jefferson Shields to review the evidence. As Carlon switches between the present investigation and the past events, we have the constant sense that the vital clue is staring us in the face, buried somewhere in the mesmerizing array of letters, witness statements and, finally, Shields's chilling face-to-face interviews with the two girls. Shields himself is a bit of a cipher, and one coincidence plays a crucial role. Nevertheless, the tension is almost palpable, and the solution is a triumph of logic and narrative pitch. British, translation, first serial and dramatic rights: Wakefield Press, Australia. (Jan.)