cover image The White Mercedes

The White Mercedes

Philip Pullman. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16 (170pp) ISBN 978-0-679-83198-3

The menacing darkness that lurked at the edges of Pullman's trilogy of Victorian-era thrillers ( The Ruby in the Smoke et al.) comes to the fore in this contemporary tale of shattered innocence and betrayed love set in Oxford, England. From the first line--``Chris Marshall met the girl he was going to kill on a warm night in early June''--the sense of imminent evil and inexorable doom builds unrelentingly to the novel's violent, gutwrenching climax. Naive and well-intentioned, 17-year-old Chris has love, not murder, on his mind when he meets and later beds Jenny (described in lyric and intimate detail), who has run away from her abusive father. Indeed, it is precisely Chris's trusting nature and sense of justice that cause the youth to be duped by a vengeful felon into causing Jenny's death--and only then because she is mistaken for someone else. Here is a modern-day Shakespearean tragedy, with star-crossed lovers separated by fate, a terrifyingly philosophical villain and assorted innocents, cads and buffoons. Its evocative narrative and throat-tightening suspense make this novel a compelling read; however, the graphic sex, moral ambiguity and somber ending make it most suitable for mature YA readers. Ages 12-up. (May)