If you live a life engaged with good books, the process by which fine stories get written does not over time become less strange, but more so. Art is alchemy, gold spun from passing thoughts, and each new practitioner has to invent the process from scratch. You pick up a new novel, A Child's Book of True Crime (Scribner), and here it is again: a writer named Chloe Hooper, a 28-year-old woman from Australia who has delivered a brilliant, seductive and unnerving first novel of sexual betrayal and murder.
A young schoolteacher named Kate Byrne is having an affair with Thomas, a man twice her age and the father of her most gifted and seemingly most damaged student, 9-year-old Lucien. Thomas's elegantly lethal wife has just published a controversial account of a notorious local murder—a crime of passion tied to an affair not unlike Kate's with Thomas.
The story of this grisly spousal vengeance occupies Kate's imagination to the point of her unraveling; at the same time there are ominous signs someone is out to harm her—her lover? His wife? Hooper has stitched into this erotic, frightening story a faux children's tale as well, one in which the animals of the outback investigate the famous murder. Such material might have sprawled out of control, but Hooper's novel is so tightly woven, so sophisticated, so full of sharp psychological truth and complex emotional and sexual life that you really have trouble believing it could be anyone's first book.
And so you stand again before the small Earthly miracle and ask, Where did that come from? How could it, letter by letter, word by word, actually have been made? On certain days it just stuns you—that literature is still possible.
— Vince Passaro