Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alys, Always. I Found it First!

Yes, readers, before this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review featured Harriet Lane's debut novel on its front page, I had checked it out from the library and was halfway through. I was so thoroughly caught up in the story and Ms. Lane's talent that I hesitated to read Jonathan Dee's take. Writers for the Times can often be unfairly, scathingly harsh. Phew! He was not. http://nyti.ms/Q2z8Mv

As an avid reader, reviewer, and author stalker extraordinaire, I was drawn to Ms. Lane's diabolical plot. She is deliciously evil and psychologically insightful. The first person narrator, Frances Thorpe, is a non-descript, one might even say, mousy young woman who works as an underling at a publishing house where she hears the names of literature's greats bandied about but spends her time adding and eliminating commas throughout their august texts.

But time and opportunity are everything in Ms. Lane's world. On a typical drizzling, dreary London evening Frances comes upon an overturned auto as she gingerly navigates her own way home from her weekly, stultifying visit with her folks.
Frances is not a bad person (so far) and she does what's expected, calling 911 for the woman trapped in the car, staying with her and calmly chatting until the ambulance sounds in the distance.

When Frances learns that the woman was Alys Kyte, the wife of renowned writer and man about town, Laurence Kyte, and that she died from her injuries, a diabolical plan begins to take shape in Frances's quite brilliant brain. Can she pull it off? Harriet Lane, how did you do this? A first novel? Amazing!

I finished this book in one sitting Sunday afternoon - three hours went by without my noticing it. Lane sets such a subtly creepy mood that before you know it your stomach is in knots but you can't honestly put your finger on just why.

Frances proves so adept at slow, steady, clever manipulation that you have to applaud her audacity. Her "victims" if you will, are so self-centered and clueless that we as readers feel little empathy for their plight.

We watch in awe as she unassumingly infiltrates the Kyte family's inner sanctum, becoming an indispensible part of their circle, while at work the panache of her proximity to the estimable Laurence Kyte has raised her profile considerably.

This novel just cries out to be purchased by the BBC and made into a movie that we can watch next year on PBS. I even know who I'd want for the actors. Rush out and grab a copy now before the holds start mounting up.

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