Nothing about Ian MacKenzie's City of Strangers (Penguin, July) tips the reader that this complex and riveting work is a first novel by an author not yet 30. MacKenzie's ideas suggest experience and depth. The central character is a writer in his mid-30s who is not quite estranged from an older half-brother; he's also not nearly over his ex-wife and struggling with the impending death of his once notorious father. Early in the novel, a violent encounter with strangers outside his Brooklyn apartment sets the story in motion and leads to tragic consequences. What might have fallen into the subgenre of the small-decision-that-has-life-changing-consequences book is made more compelling by the texture provided by the relationships among the family members. MacKenzie handles the questions of obligation and responsibility among his characters with great skill, which elevates this novel to an impressive literary level.