Forensic psychologist Michael Stone is a supposedly neutral expert in child abuse who's just testifying in Sharon Southworth's custody suit against her husband. And it's a good thing she's not Sharon's hired gun, because Sharon is the client from hell--a paranoid hysteric who wouldn't stand a chance of getting her children away from their father, a successful thoracic surgeon, if both Adrienne and Andrew weren't clearly alleging that daddy had been playing doctor with them. Even that revelation, in fact, isn't enough to turn the tide: Dr. Nathan Southworth ends up getting custody of both kids just in time for them to get murdered, smothered, and laid out neatly on the beds Sharon's kept for them at her place. The cops tag Sharon for the killings when they find a highly pertinent leaf torn from Michael's copy of Toni Morrison's Beloved mounted in Sharon's diary, and Michael's reputation as an expert witness seems doomed--unless she teases another molester, a Hannibal Lecter wannabe named Alex B. Willy, into venturing out of his cell into a visiting room to give her creepy hints about what the few clues in the case really mean. Michael, a southerner transplanted to Vermont whose fetish is to own no more than 250 objects at once, is fascinating when she talks about the pitfalls of examining children. As the main detective in this thinly imagined debut, though, she poses no threat to Kay Scarpetta or Clarice Starling.