cover image Kiss of the Wolf

Kiss of the Wolf

Jim Shepard. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $21.95 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-15-147279-6

Shepard's gritty, effective fourth novel (after Lights Off in the Reptile House ) opens quietly as a slice-of-life story about an Italian-American family in Connecticut. Joanie Mucherino's husband has recently left her and their 11-year-old son Todd. Her parents try to help, but their old-world ministrations don't seem very relevant to the modern problem of working and raising a child alone. But things could be worse: Bruno the car salesman is clearly interested in her, and although Todd is slightly aloof, their relationship is basically good. Then, driving home from her parents' house one night with Todd, Joanie hits and kills a man who turns out to have vague ties to organized crime. Over the subsequent weeks she realizes that she doesn't intend to tell anyone about the accident. Catholic guilt wears away at her, Todd becomes more and more sullen and Bruno's attentions get a bit too keen. Shepard's writing is impeccable, and he portrays his blue-collar characters without condescension or sentimentality, but with clear-eyed compassion, catching their voices with unerring accuracy. Although the plot takes a while to gather steam, its violent, grisly conclusion is as gripping as any thriller's. (Feb.)