From a young Australian comes this darkly comic debut starring Kate Byrne, a 22-year-old fourth-grade teacher at Endport Primary in Tasmania. One of Kate's favorite students is Lucien Marne, whose precociousness and premature cynicism make him an outsider in class. He greatly resembles his father, Thomas, a well-to-do lawyer with whom Kate is having a passionate affair. After Thomas's urbane wife, Veronica, publishes a creepy children's book, Murder at Black Swan Point, strange things begin to happen to Kate. In her book, Veronica inserts cute Australian animal characters into a gruesome plot based on a real-life crime: teenager Eleanor Siddell worked as an assistant to veterinarian Graeme Harvey; the older man seduced Eleanor, who easily succumbed to his charms. Allegedly, when Graeme's wife discovered their secret trysts, she murdered the girl and disappeared, leaving her abandoned car atop Suicide Cliffs. Now, in the wake of increasingly disturbing events the failure of her car's brakes, Lucien's violent drawings Kate suspects that perhaps Veronica wrote the book as a warning, or maybe even a plan of action. Kate's paranoia leads her to distrust everyone, including herself. The writing, though frequently excellent, is compromised by the book's overall feeling of disorganization. Kate displays a level of sophistication unlikely for a 22-year-old who's just striking out on her own she tosses off such observations as "perhaps all perversity comes gift-wrapped, so to speak, in the banal" and far too many pages are devoted to her musings on Eleanor's murder. Hooper's wicked, sexy tale nevertheless proves she is a writer of great promise. 6-city author tour. (Mar. 19) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.