Novelist Lowry (Breaking Gentle, 1988, etc.) delivers a stunning work of nonfiction, charting the growth of a strange but healing intimacy between herself and a young woman prisoner sentenced to die for a gruesome murder. In 1988, Lowry was still in the state of numbness that had arisen four years earlier when her 17-year-old son Peter had died in a hit-and-run accident. Peter had been troubled, and in trouble, for years, and Lowry's grief was compounded by an obscure sense of guilt at somehow having failed him as a mother. Then she read about Karla Faye Tucker in The Houston Chronicle, her hometown paper. Karla fascinated Lowry with the contrast between her innocent prettiness and the horror of her crime—the motiveless, drug- impelled pickaxe murder of a hated acquaintance and his female companion. The luridness of Karla's background—she was a call-girl mom who taught her two daughters her trade and shot heroin with them—made her story even more compelling. Lowry requested an interview, and Karla agreed, beginning a series of monthly visits in which the women shared details of their respective tragedies, as well as a lot of plain old restorative girl-talk. That Karla is Lowry's substitute child, the one she can do right by to make up for her self-perceived failure with Peter, and that Lowry is the good mother Karla never had, is an unavoidable inference—but there is more to this complex relationship: a shared taste between Lowry and Karla for mystery and impulse, and a mutual amazement as to ``how much happiness you can find within completely unacceptable givens.'' Gripping true-crime details and marvelous local color in Lowry's rendering of the wild, heartless boomtown of Houston make this a real page-turner. But most remarkable is the author's insight into the human capacity for extremes of violence and tenderness, brutality and nobility.