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RED LEAVES by Paullina Simons

RED LEAVES

By Paullina Simons

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-14715-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

 Second-novelist Simons (Tully, 1994) returns with a tale seemingly influenced by Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Unlike Tartt, though, Simons chooses a real setting: Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire. But despite the sharply observed locale, the story remains pretty hard to swallow, and Simons can't match her model's intellectual pretensions or in-depth explorations of character. Here, four college seniors are supposedly best friends, but they don't ever seem to like each other very much. The most charismatic is Kristina Kim (who is not Asian, but who does provide, eventually, a reason for her surname), the All-Ivy center on the women's basketball team. Conni Tobias is Kristina's blond, simpering roommate from freshman year; Jim Shaw is a budding politician and Kristina's so-called boyfriend; Albert Maplethorpe is Conni's steady of several years but, more importantly, possesses an uncertain past and a connection to Krissy (as he calls her) that no one seems to understand. When Kristina is found buried beneath a snowdrift, naked but for her black boots, the three remaining friends are immediate suspects; it is up to 30-year-old Detective Spencer Patrick O'Malley--who happened to meet Kristina just before she was killed--to figure out who's telling the truth. As it turns out, nobody is; before long, Conni, who was desperately jealous of Albert's relationship with Kristina, pleads guilty and gets sent to jail; Jim drops out of school and starts working for a bank; and Albert disappears without a trace. O'Malley figures out--with some improbably fancy footwork involving fingerprints--that Albert is not who he claims to be; when the truth is revealed, only the most diligent readers will not say, ``Huh?'' Take this to the beach if you must (okay, it's campy fun), but look elsewhere for a mystery with real smarts. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection; author tour)