June works in the kitchen of the local elementary school, and exciting things don't happen to her very often. That's why the news that Ralphie Pruett's father had been arrested for killing Cindy Hanks' mother is so electrifying. Because just before the time of the murder, Mr. Pruett had stopped at June's broken-down car and offered her a ride. She can't avoid the thought that what happened to Vernay could have happened to her instead.

Most women might get over this with a shrug, but June has an inner life like Grand Central Station something is always happening in her head. Bill, her fond and handsome husband, wants her to forget about it, to Go have some fun. Instead, out of the goodness of her heart (if there is a darker reason she prefers not to think about it), she makes a sympathy call on the grieving family, pretending to be a close friend of the murdered woman. Her growing relationship with the victim's child and brother uncovers certain facts that will change her life forever.

Twenty Questions is touching, funny and deeper than it seems to be. June's flow of consciousness never stops, and encompasses everything, ranging from the resolve of killers ( how much effort do they put into it? . . . Do they keep at it, or after a while, do they get hungry and go home for dinner instead? Maybe they think, well there's that TV show on, and I hate to miss it. ) to thoughts on looking into the murdered mother's closetful of clothing ( It didn't seem right that someone's accessories should last longer than their body. ) Some fears, though, are left to be plumbed after the story is finished. Alison Clement's first novel, Pretty Is as Pretty Does, gleaned enough praise from reviewers that she might have reason to worry about the proverbial curse of the second novel. No need. Twenty Questions passes the test with an A. Maude McDaniel is a writer in Cumberland, Maryland.

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