Haven Kimmel, . . Doubleday, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49983-5

A romance evolves in the wake of a domestic shooting in Kimmel's intelligent and compassionate debut novel, which brings two friends of one of the victims together in a small Indiana town. Amos Townsend is the male protagonist, a 40-ish preacher who counseled the late Alice Baker-Maloney as her frayed marriage degenerated into a fatal confrontation with her controlling husband, Jack. Amos remains tormented by his attraction to Alice and his inability to have prevented the tragedy. Meanwhile, bookish Langston Braverman has returned home after dropping out of her Ph.D. program following an affair with an academic colleague and subsequent nervous breakdown. The two clash after Langston's mother, AnnaLee, orders her to abandon her literary projects to care for Alice's two orphaned daughters; Amos accuses Langston of being unfit for the job when both girls continue to exhibit a bizarre variety of compulsive, religiously oriented behaviors. The girls' crisis continues to escalate, leading to a series of melodramatic scenes in which Amos and Langston are forced to confront their own demons. There are some winning moments as the protagonists move toward a romance, although things are hindered somewhat by the sluggish pace in the early going, as Kimmel (A Girl Named Zippy) meanders through scenes detailing smalltown Midwestern life and as she delves into the pasts of the two leads. Still, she proves a wise, compassionate and often very witty storyteller whose affection for her characters is contagious. Agent, Stella Connell. Author tour. (June 18)