OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH by Aljean Harmetz

OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A former Hollywood business reporter for the New York Times (On the Road to Tara, 1996, etc.) debuts in fiction with this neatly restrained California suspenser. In Sherwood, eight-year-old David Greene deliberately upsets his divorced mother, Drew, calls his younger brother Kiley ""suckdick,"" gets sent to his bedroom--and decides to run away. At a mall where he buys baseball trading cards, David, as he's beginning to reconsider, is induced to accept a ride with Denver, a stranger, who abducts him instead of taking him home--and then starts brainwashing David into becoming ""Andy Ellis."" Harmetz's procedural follows the cops' fruitless but necessary police work, Drew's stages of anxiety that lead to action, Denver's modus operandi, and the outward personality changes in David. The Sherwood police too readily assume that David has been killed, going so far, on very slender evidence, as to charge someone with his murder. Denver, meanwhile, is a master of child psychology, clearly having brainwashed many young boys into affection for him (""Yes, Daddy""). David, however, has a 168 IQ and secretly retains his real identity. Scenes alternate as Drew gradually draws a local detective, uncomfortable with the so-called resolution of the case, into the search, and as Denver and David move from motel to motel, hanging out at trading-card stores. Finally, the boy gets the idea of leaving trading cards of players named ""David"" as clues at various places, even though Denver keeps a very close eye on him. At first, Denver's a good daddy, however twistedly he tries to seduce David's affections. And since David hasn't truly vanished off the face of the earth, the climax is a foregone conclusion. Believable, well-weighted characters and dialogue, without really transcending genre status.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner