Books: Wisconsin Death Trip

A first novel plumbs lives haunted by a mystery

First novels seldom attract financial interest from Hollywood, but when they do, as in the case of Peter Benchley's Jaws or Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, the selling points tend to be strong characters and a plot long on tension and surprises. That's a fair description of Christina Schwarz's Drowning Ruth (Doubleday; 338 pages; $23.95), which probably explains why, even before its publication, Miramax bought the screen rights for director Wes Craven. Readers should not wait for the film version, though, because this unusually deft and assured first novel conveys a good deal more than thrills and chills.

There is, to be...

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