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Publication: The New York Times
Date: August 19, 2001

Whitney Terrell explores some major puzzles of human behavior in his searing first novel, THE HUNTSMAN (Viking, $25.95), but the mystery of record -- who murdered Clarissa Sayers and slipped her body into the Missouri River? -- is the least of them. It isn't hard to figure out who killed Clarissa, the rebellious daughter of a Kansas City judge, whose friendship with a black ex-con rocked the social establishment. It's far more rewarding, though, to follow Terrell's mournful analysis of the forces that changed, and are still changing, the city's racial dynamics. Terrell works through character, shaping his story from memories that career through time, pausing at pivotal scenes that catch people all unaware and unguarded. The person he follows most closely is Booker Short, an angry black youth who has processed his identity from the mythic history passed on by his grandfather, an old man with a keen grudge. But the author is just as scrupulous with characters who merely pass by. Like a camera, he records ''visions at once hilarious and sad'' of an anonymous woman clinging to a talisman in a hotel room, a soldier in a stockade about to die, old men observing an annual ritual of their vanished youth. Clarissa was a silly girl, but she didn't die in vain, to give us such a talent.