Carroll joins the mainstream with a romantic suspense novel quite unlike his usual slippery surrealism (Outside the Dog Museum, 1991; A Child Across the Sky, 1990, etc.) and delivers what is pretty much a winner. Carroll's US cult following is limited, but his work is heralded and esteemed in Europe for its avant-garde qualities (he lives in Vienna). What carries the day for him here are characters that really grip you, and straightahead storytelling that should bring him a new batch of stateside readers. His hero is Max Fischer (perhaps a play on Hollywood animator Max Fleischer), a famed L.A. cartoonist whose main character is Paper Clip, a talking paper clip that makes eccentric comments about the realistic parts of his panels. Unmarried at 37, Max falls for Lily Aaron, a widow with a bright nine-year-old son, Lincoln. Lily loves waitressing in an oddball L.A. restaurant, and her dead-on honesty attracts Max, who finally marries her. But he finds that her honesty has its hidden neurotic side, which prompts him to hire a friendly female detective to look into Lily's background. The results lead to very upsetting facts: Lily not only was never married, and has invented her dead ex-husband, but she also kidnapped Lincoln as a small baby and has raised him as her own. Why? Because an early miscarriage left her unable to bear children, although not infertile. Max flies to New Jersey and meets (he thinks) Lincoln's lost parents, but decides to go along with Lily and keep Lincoln as his stepson. Years pass and wonderful, brilliant Lincoln grows into a jackbooted psychotic who hates Max and Lily and is ready to kill.... Strong throughout, though the story's hairpinning into suspense feels forced. Still, honest Lily's best pages run deep-- and this is Carroll's most readable ever.