Olivia Dale is making a name for herself on the crime beat at a Memphis newspaper. Her byline means everything to her, and the 24-year-old has cultivated a tough veneer to get her scoops. But that veneer is as fragile as blown glass. The brutal rape and murder of Allison Avery, a charismatic young singer whose life holds, and casts, dark shadows, shatters Olivia's hard- won calm. The remaining question: will it shatter her life as well? Olivia both capitalizes on and privately regrets the enforced voyeurism of her profession. Always on the margin, always watching, always chronicling the lives of others, she wonders what her own life might be missing:
People are like those nested Russian dolls. There's always someone else hiding inside the person you think you know, layer after layer, each with the same painted face. I want to open someone up and hold that last solid little doll in my hand. I know all of Allison Avery's disguises, femme fatale, loyal friend, maternal and corrupting sister, virginal obedient daughter, performer, alive with the magic of her own touch. But who was she at the center? I don't know if I believe in the soul. I'm afraid of the darkness I see in all of us, every one of us a mystery. I have looked in the mirror and not been certain that I saw myself.
As she picks through the contradictory remains of Allison's existence, however, Olivia falls helplessly under Allison's spell. Her quest to discover the truth behind her death slides into an eerie exercise in doubling, as Olivia begins to mimic the singer in thought, word, and deed. Where will Olivia draw the line between self and subject in her terrifying plunge from distance to immediacy? And will it be the merging, or the separating, that carries the greatest risks?
Body of a Girl is at once atmospheric, erotic, and deeply disturbing. So effective is Leah Stewart at capturing the sultry heat of a Memphis summer that the pages practically sweat. It is well-paced and tautly plotted, visceral and gripping. Stewart has mercilessly sketched the potential emptiness at the core of the self, and in doing so has given psychological suspense fans a name to appreciate now and welcome in the future. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
The summer Southern thriller has become an industry clich?, and this novel outwardly cleaves to the formAa plucky Memphis crime reporter investigates a grisly murder, rubs shoulders with local lowlifes and even participates in a drunken showdown on Beale Street. But debut author Stewart crafts a novel more serious and sensitive than the average whodunit. Olivia Dale, a young, dedicated reporter who works the police beat despite the protests of her protective boyfriend, tackles the story of recently raped and murdered Allison Avery, who worked as a nursing tech in a medical clinic and dreamed of becoming a rock singer. As Olivia interviews Allison's family and friends, she begins to identify with her subject, who emerges as a bright, funny woman with a physical resemblance to Olivia. Captivated by the case, Olivia starts to imagine herself the murder victim. She carries on a dangerous flirtation with Allison's young brother, dances with Allison's obsessive ex-boyfriend and is tempted to experiment with the drugs that may have played a role in Allison's death. Olivia's fixation gives Stewart the opportunity to comment on the blurry line between reality and reporting, and on the frightening realization that crime can strike at random. Yet in defusing the mystery of Allison's death, and focusing instead on Olivia's inner life, Stewart neglects to provide a satisfying conclusion to the unsolved murder. As a result, even the evocation of Memphis's sweltering summer heat can't bring Stewart's tale to a rolling boil. Agent, Gordon Kato. Author tour. (Aug.)
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