A minister seeks to forge a relationship with the rapist who killed his wife and son: Dead Man Walking recast as a searing psychological thriller. Everyone who finds out about the letter Rev. Alson Pierce wrote to Alex Leonard considers him a saint. Instead of condemning Leonard or preaching at him, Pierce wants only to love him as Jesus commanded. If he's allowed access to Leonard in his cell, he says, he'll be happy to help with his appeal, run his errands, bring him magazines or videos--anything to prove his love. And when Pierce responds to Leonard's demand--stop the harassment of Leonard's girlfriend Monica Zeller--first by appealing to his congregation (among whom Leonard insists the harassers are to be found) and then by visiting truculent Monica, catching the perps in the act, and scaring them into laying off her, the congregation, together with hundreds of letter-writers and documentary filmmaker Jerome Roth, who wants to capture Pierce's meetings with Leonard on film, are more convinced than ever that he's the most perfect Christian in the world. None of them knows that Pierce is campaigning to get into Leonard's cell only so that he can smuggle a gun in and shoot him dead. But Pierce hasn't counted on the ways he'll be affected by this world-class manipulator, a man who makes light of the murders, blames them on religion and society, ridicules and abuses Pierce, all the while preening on camera for his Christmas appeal. Racked by horrifyingly vivid dreams of his dead wife and son and spasms of conscience, Pierce begins to doubt his own plan--especially after a riot in the prison gives him the chance to kill Leonard, when he hesitates at the exact moment that Leonard (cause or effect?) demands to be baptized. Everett not only keeps the suspense taut till the last page, but pulls off the most explosive novel of religious redemption since Flannery O'Connor. Not bad for a first novel.