A gripping and often quite amusing literary thriller from the expatriate American author of After Silence (1996), and several other exercises in often very imaginative comic surrealism. Carroll's latest is a witty take on the writing life and, just possibly, also a sly homage to his colleague Stephen King (one of several Carroll thanks in a gracious dedication). It's the wry, edgy first-person story told by successful novelist Sam Baver, who's uneasily dealing with middle age, the aftermaths of three divorces, and a severe case of writer's block. Sam's creative juices are revived, however, when an impulsive visit to his hometown of Crane's View, New York, stirs up memories of the only memorable event of his undistinguished youth: his discovery, when he was 15, of the body of a murdered teenaged girl. Sam realizes he has never believed that neighborhood beauty Pauline Ostrova was killed by her boyfriend Edward Durant (who confessed to the crime and later took his own life)--and his investigation of this long-buried story involves him with several other varyingly suspicious characters. Among them are: Frannie McCabe, Sam's old friend and fellow hell-raiser; Johnny Petangles, a slow-witted recluse who proves to have known Pauline better than anyone realized; and Edward Durant's dying father, a former federal prosecutor who has long believed Pauline's amour with a local Mafioso sealed his innocent son's fate. Things are further complicated by the unruly presence in Sam's life and affections of a gorgeous fan of his writing, improbably named Veronica Lake, who sticks troublingly close to him even after he thinks he's dumped her (shades of King's Misery). It sounds rather overheated, but Carroll blends all these elements beautifully, and brings the novel to a smashing and surprising climax. If this be Carroll's attempt to enter the commercial mainstream, more power to him. With this terrifically entertaining tale, he has improved the quality of the water.