John Halliday, . . S&S/McElderry, $15.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-689-84338-9

Halliday's studiously ironic but ultimately thin first novel follows two story lines. First introduced is convicted robber Macy who, upon release from jail, steals a car and buys a gun. He murders a teen girl he sees running on the side of a road, then drives on, with no particular destination in mind. The narrative shifts to the small town of Shiloh, where a misfit named Danny secretly worships the pretty and popular Leah. The author maintains distance from his characters even as the story lines converge, along the way supplying detailed but detached profiles of the people Macy and Danny each encounter, such as Eddie, a police officer who was also once a troubled kid but is now "one of the kindest people anyone ever met," thanks to critical guidance from a high school teacher. Many details, however, seem contrived, such as Macy's fear of the rain (traced to an episode early in his childhood) or overdone (Danny not only has a crooked spine, but his front teeth are so crooked that "he could only eat corn by holding the cob firmly to his cheek and chewing with his side teeth"). Halliday's cynicism may appeal to teenage sophisticates, and he does build tension well after Macy kidnaps Leah. In the end, however, the voice may be too stylized to engage readers at an emotional level. Ages 14-up. (Mar.)