Murders at a Minnesota high school play a fairly unusual role here: they're just background for an otherwise ordinary, rather fuzzy, but talented first novel of a young narrator's confusion, restlessness, relationships, ""this riddle of my life."" He's Peter Leesh, English teacher at the Wandekia, Minn., high school where three attractive girls have been strangled. And as the search for the killer and fear of further killings spread tension, Peter records ideas, odd feelings (""I want the murders to go on""), memories (of dead relatives), and the course of his murky relationship with French teacher Alexandra--a beautiful, haunted type who's paralyzed with fear over the murders. Watson does a solid job of conveying the uneasy murder-town atmosphere; his dialogue is generally fine; the book's few active scenes (like a drearily ""wild"" pizza party with Peter and friends) come across vividly; and Watson's central notion--that the murders provide a natural hook upon which to hang thoughts of death, violence, alienation, and such--isn't necessarily wrong. But this strategy soon becomes too obvious, as does the novel's basically static nature: all too often, it seems to be an assemblage of bits from a beginning writer's journal, sometimes slipping into self-conscious archness. (""We rode in silence. Don't they always say that in novels?"") And the final would-be epiphany--Peter will quit teaching, leave Minnesota (""I no longer have any use for symbols. . . . Goodbye. Goodbye. Farewell"") falls flat. Not a powerful or graceful debut, then; but Watson can populate and describe and make a mood, all of which promise strong books ahead once he sets aside the self-involvement and pale profundities that becalm this flawed but worthy first voyage out.