October 26, 1992 12:00 PM

by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

When London critics trounced Hitchcock’s last play, Vanilla, directed in the West End last year by Harold Pinter, the American playwright promised herself that “the next time I fell on my face, it would be without benefit of actors or directors.”

In her first novel, an elegant psychological thriller, Hitchcock hasn’t so much as stubbed her toe. The book, which explores the creation and shattering of illusions on many levels, is told in the first-person voice of its heroine, Faith Crowell. Faith is a trompe l’oeil artist, someone who paints decorative optical illusions for a living—fake windows opening onto lush gardens, faux marble, etc. She’s recruited by grande dame Frances Griffin to overhaul the walls and ceiling of a ballroom. Once she steps into Mrs. Griffin’s silk-upholstered world, Faith finds that her own tricks of the eye are piffle compared with the lady’s. She becomes obsessed with secrets Mrs. Griffin’s fabulously wealthy family has been hiding for years, including the mystery surrounding the brutal murder of Mrs. Griffin’s daughter.

Richly nuanced, Trick is piercing in its depictions of the rich—it’s obvious Hitchcock, whose friends include Jacqueline Onassis and her circle, knows whereof she writes. While her book is set in contemporary America, it is reminiscent of those murky Daphne du Maurier tales in which money and privilege are used as weapons to shield the wealthy from the consequences of their deeds. Whether Hitchcock goes back to plays or continues to write novels, this one will be a hard act to follow. (Dutton, $19)

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