Lamb, by Bonnie Nadzam, Hutchinson, RRP£12.99, 288 pages

At the centre of Bonnie Nadzam’s unsettling, suspenseful first novel is David Lamb, a 54-year-old philanderer and scoundrel. When he comes across Tommie, a scrawny 11-year-old girl, in a Chicago parking lot, he finds himself fascinated and invites her to his cabin in the woods.

Rather like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, Lamb seeks to justify his involvement by couching it in fatherly terms of protectiveness: he is, he says, “not that kind of man”, and only interested in giving her a “decent meal”. But he clearly derives a sinister thrill from manipulating Tommie: “What a man she rendered him, simply by being a girl who could be picked up and moved.”

All the while the narration strikes an intimate tone (the protagonists are designated “our guy” and “our girl”), intended, perhaps, to evoke in the reader a queasy sense of complicity. The result is a morbidly fascinating debut; Nadzam’s beautiful prose makes the flesh creep.

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