Harriet Lane's debut novel "Alys, Always" has a deceptively simple beginning. A young woman, Frances Thorpe, encounters a one-car traffic accident on a snowy night. After calling an ambulance, she speaks to the injured woman as they wait for help. Frances later learns that the woman, Alys, has died and that her family would like to meet her.
Thus begins a fascinating and slightly creepy page-turner. The author effectively portrays Frances as a mildly unhappy woman who feels disconnected from her own life. She works as an editor for the books section of a struggling newspaper, and her relationships with friends and family seem to isolate rather than sustain her.
Frances slowly works her way into the lives of Alys' family. She is cool and methodical throughout, and she often takes note of the differences between Alys' world and her own. Suddenly her own apartment looks shabbier, her work less rewarding.
Readers will be reminded of Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and even Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" for the way an absent character dominates the story. Don't start the book until you have some reading time set aside, you will not want to put this one down.
--Jennifer A., Headquarters