In the Memphis summer, the heat clings heavy like a second skin. Olivia Dale's job as a novice crime reporter is at once surreal - stepping in and out of strangers' lives with her notebook - and all too real. As she studies the curled-up body of a young woman who has been kidnapped and gruesomely killed, she observes that "the place has the postapocalyptic stillness that comes when something terrible has been and gone, as though even the air has slowed like a passing car to survey the damage." Staring at the girl's painted toenails, Olivia wonders: Could I have been that girl? After all, as she chases a lead story, Olivia discovers that Allison Avery - so all-American, so similar to Olivia in age and looks - was more like her than she wants to believe." "Partly out of gutsy ambition to get a front-page story and partly to reassure herself that this could not have been a random act, Olivia becomes determined to find out who the murderer was. As she grows more and more obsessed with Allison, Olivia begins to shuck off her own cautious self and become everything she believes Allison was: charismatic, vivacious, and unafraid. She too begins to flirt with living as close to the edge as possible, with nearly tragic consequences.
The summer Southern thriller has become an industry clich?, and this novel outwardly cleaves to the formAa plucky Memphis crime reporter investigates a grisly murder, rubs shoulders with local lowlifes and even participates in a drunken showdown on Beale Street. But debut author Stewart crafts a novel more serious and sensitive than the average whodunit. Olivia Dale, a young, dedicated reporter who works the police beat despite the protests of her protective boyfriend, tackles the story of recently raped and murdered Allison Avery, who worked as a nursing tech in a medical clinic and dreamed of becoming a rock singer. As Olivia interviews Allison's family and friends, she begins to identify with her subject, who emerges as a bright, funny woman with a physical resemblance to Olivia. Captivated by the case, Olivia starts to imagine herself the murder victim. She carries on a dangerous flirtation with Allison's young brother, dances with Allison's obsessive ex-boyfriend and is tempted to experiment with the drugs that may have played a role in Allison's death. Olivia's fixation gives Stewart the opportunity to comment on the blurry line between reality and reporting, and on the frightening realization that crime can strike at random. Yet in defusing the mystery of Allison's death, and focusing instead on Olivia's inner life, Stewart neglects to provide a satisfying conclusion to the unsolved murder. As a result, even the evocation of Memphis's sweltering summer heat can't bring Stewart's tale to a rolling boil. Agent, Gordon Kato. Author tour. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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July 30, 2001
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