We review two Patricia Carlon novels, available in the U.S. after 40 years

August 11, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Originally published in Patricia Carlon’s native Australia in the 1960s and finally available in print here, The Unquiet Night and The Price of an Orphan are visually evocative mysteries roiling with suspense. In spare prose, Carlon casts a chilling noose around her characters, then pulls it tight, creating a palpable sense of ”Look behind you!” excitement. Her bad guys possess a terrifying focus that sharpens with each passing moment. But while Night‘s Ann Penghill is a coddled little girl, picnicking in a park with her vivacious aunt while someone is strangled nearby, Orphan‘s sullen, unhappy Johnnie Heath is another story. Recently adopted by a kind couple breaking under the strain of caring for him, Johnnie often runs off to play at forbidden, isolated cave entrances. All three of the Heaths’ lives change in a creepy version of ”The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Carlon’s descriptions and deftly applied nervous pressure put her in the same league as Patricia Highsmith. Fortunately, more of her work will soon be available: Soho, which has recently brought out six of Carlon’s novels, plans to release four more in 2001. Both books: A

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