A merciless killer meets his match in the hostage he's snatched from a nursing home in Morgenroth's white-hot debut. The man called Merec has killed, by his own count, 82 people, but he never tires of staging scenes that pose his victims— impossible moral dilemmas. His favorite game is to pair prospective victims off and ask one of each pair which of the two he should kill. One day he and his crew (Tina the inside contact, Jeremy the obliging videotaper, etc.) descend on the Willowridge Rest Home in Virginia. When they pair off the clients and the available staff, every person they ask tells them to kill the other half of the pair—every person but Sarah Shepherd. Sarah, widowed by a car crash four months earlier, has been hopelessly apathetic until Merec comes along, but the defining moment he poses, faithfully captured on video, gives her a new lease on life. Instead of killing her, he takes her hostage and has her beaten and tortured on camera with the idea that sooner or later she'll break down and make a videotaped plea for a $10 million ransom the public, fascinated by her endlessly televised story, will queue up to help pay. But Sarah's made of sterner stuff than Merec thinks. Not only does she refuse to snap; she refuses, when the chance offers, to escape, insisting that she'd rather enjoy whatever employment Merec can offer her than endure her brief talk-show stint as a hero before returning to idle despair. Though Morgenroth tacks on her share of action clichés—the heartlessly jokey chapter titles, the justice agencies hopelessly at odds with each other, the scheming media mogul, the prison-house testimony that labels Merec evil—her unsparing take on fame and morality in contemporary America gives this exhilarating tale an unsettling edge. The rat-tat-tat-tat delivery recalls Speed laced with moral conundrums. Just don't get too attached to any of the minor characters.
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