Hide Your Eyes by Alison Gaylin
(Signet, $5.99, PG-13/V) ISBN 0-451-21448-X
****
Creepy suspense crossed with dark humor and a touch of romance highlight this impressive debut from journalist Alison Gaylin.† Within its quick 300 pages, Gaylin creates vivid characterizations and a fast-moving plot.† Signet labels this one a ďgreat read guaranteedĒ or your money back. †I donít think they will get many returns from disappointed consumers, but they might hear from readers clamoring to find out the release date for Gaylinís next novel.† †

It should be just another normal day for Samantha Leiffer.† The petite New Yorker teaches preschoolers in the morning and spends her afternoons and evenings working at the box office for a small theater company.† But the day starts out with a vague premonition of something bad about to happen that the superstitious Sam canít ignore.† Thereís a slightly strange interaction with two local policemen who offer a presentation to Samís preschoolers on ďstranger danger,Ē but nothing really ominous occurs until Sam takes a walk later that evening.† She ends up by a pier on the Hudson River, where she sees a man and a woman dumping a suspicious looking ice chest into the water.† When Sam makes eye contact with the man she is shocked to see that he has mirrored eyes Ė not sunglasses, but mirrors where his irises should be.† †

Sam isnít sure if she has witnessed a crime or imagined the entire bizarre event, but she canít shake the disturbing feeling about the interaction.† At first she tries to convince herself she is overreacting, but when vaguely threatening souvenirs start showing up among her belongings, she decides to go to the police Ė right to the badly-dressed but handsome detective John Krull who spoke to her preschool class.† †

Hide Your Eyes is one of those rare suspense novels with both interesting plot and characters.† There are legions of kick-butt heroines dotting the literary landscape these days, but Sam manages to stand above the crowd.† She can wisecrack along with the best of them, but she has a core of vulnerability and insecurity from her fatherís abandonment and motherís self-absorption that make her seem more human.† A native Californian who moved East for an ill-fated love affair with an actor, she is still enough of an outsider to be amazed and impressed by the Big Appleís idiosyncrasies and colorful inhabitants.† When the inevitable relationship develops with Detective Krull, who eventually has no choice but to take her report seriously, itís awkward but sweet with mercifully little game-playing.† Her wry first person narrative strikes a perfect note between rapidly growing terror and gallows humor, even during the final heart-stopping confrontation.† †

The secondary characters, from Samís preschool students to her co-workers, gay-pal Yale and self-absorbed mother are well drawn considering their brief appearances.† The suspense builds steadily, hooking the reader from the first chapter.† Like any good horror flick, the gore and violence are more effective because they are judiciously utilized (although the profanity flows freely).† There are a few unexplained coincidences, and more than once Gaylin sends her heroine off to face danger alone when any reasonable person would have called for backup, but for the most part Samís involvement with the crime plot is relatively credible.† †

The novel contains an excerpt from a forthcoming, as yet unnamed book featuring Sam Leiffer.† Itís frequently difficult to sustain a crime series involving a protagonist who is not a policeman or private investigator.† How realistic is it that dead bodies will keep dropping in front of a quirky preschool teacher?† But as long as Gaylin can balance the suspense with the focus on Sam, Krull and the people in their lives, Iíll be willing to go along for the ride.† †

--Susan Scribner


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