cover image Snowstorms in a Hot Climate

Snowstorms in a Hot Climate

Sarah Dunant, Sarah Duant. Random House (NY), $15.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57018-1

It's unusual to find a credible friendship between women blended into the pages of a tightly written thriller, but Dunant's first novel rises well above the genre's watermark. A shaky summons from her estranged friend Elly draws Marla from the cool reaches of an English summer to the humid streets of New York. A determinedly dusty academic, Marla doesn't expect to outshine exotic Elly, but the woman who meets her at the airport is a washed-out version of her once vibrant schoolmate. After globetrotting for several seasons, Elly has hooked up with a strikingly attractive, charismatic liar named Lennie, who lives for the high he gets from cocaine, which he smuggles and deals. Initially, their affair energized Elly; now she has sunk into a slough of drug-induced despair, from which her lover refuses to lift a hand to save her. With grim relish, Marla prepares to battle for Elly's soul, encouraging her to take refuge at the California estate of Lennie's enigmatic ex-partner, J.T. What follows is an intricate psychological chess game that escalates to murder. Sharp-edged humor, a devious, neo-Gothic plot that twists back on itself and a lust for revenge impel the novel to its inexorable finale. (Nov.)