Often the decision on whether a book belongs in the Whodunit? column is something of a judgment call. To some degree, most fiction falls into the suspense genre; after all, if there is no suspense, there is no story. The first time I was faced with this conundrum was with T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain, perhaps the quintessential latter-day Southern California fable, but hardly a whodunit. Leslie Larson's Slipstream presents a similar quandary. Owing as much to Sandra Cisneros as to T. Jefferson Parker, Larson spins a classic noir tale in contemporary L.A. The hub of the story is LAX (Los Angeles International Airport, to the uninitiated), where two of the main characters work: Rudy, who cleans airplanes between flights, and Wylie, who tends bar. From there the story fans out, embracing Rudy's wife, an Avon saleslady with clandestine plans to leave Rudy far behind; Carolyn, Wylie's on-again off-again girlfriend, who harbors a closely guarded secret; Logan, Wylie's parolee brother, who repeatedly turns up like the proverbial bad penny; and Logan's daughter Jewell, a late-blooming lesbian in a failing relationship. Some will go on to a happy ending; one will fall to a sniper's bullet. One thing is certain: L.A. will be a markedly different place for the survivors. Slipstream is Larson's debut novel (a big month for debuts, eh?); expect big things from this exciting new find!

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