A kidnaped-child nightmare that’s every bit as intense as O’Connell’s acclaimed Kathy Mallory detective stories (Stone Angel, 1997, etc.). Fifteen years ago, the little town of Makers Village, NY, and its pride, St. Ursula’s Academy, were shattered when Rouge Kendall’s twin sister Susan was lured from her home with the unwilling complicity of one of her trusted friends, into the clutches of a sadistic pedophile who killed her and left her family devastated. Now Rouge, only 25 but already a failure at Princeton, pro baseball, and police work, is put on a task force for a case that looks eerily similar: the disappearance of two more St. Ursula’s students, wealthy Gwen Hubble, the obvious target (her mother Marsha is New York’s Lieutenant Governor), and Sadie Green, the judas child presumably used to get at her friend. The criminal’s m.o.--if it is the same monster that psychological profiler Ali Cray has identified, rather than the convicted suspect who’s been in jail all these years--is to kill his child accomplice immediately, then let her cosseted friend linger in captivity till Christmas Day. This time, though, O’Connell shows the two captives, both very much alive, desperately plotting to outwit their tormentor; plucky Sadie, who’s seen every horror movie since Freaks and likes to play dead, is especially poignant and resourceful. Can Rouge follow the clues to their prison--winning the confidence of the selectively mute friend who was on the scene when they were kidnaped, identifying the contents of a telltale parka’s pocket, keeping out of the line of fire among the local cops, the state cops, and the FBI--before the girls run out of time and hope? Though the scenario couldn’t be more familiar, O’Connell’s characters are so painfully real--most of them far too interesting for the limited functions the plot asks them to serve--that you’re hard-pressed to take anything for granted in this grisly, poetic tale.