Hot on the heels of Mary Willis Walker's Under the Beetle's Cellar (p. 818), another post-Waco hostage crisis, this one a stunner from the author of Praying for Sleep (1994) and ten other suspense novels. The hostages this time are eight deaf Kansas schoolgirls and their two teachers, held in an abandoned slaughterhouse by murderous escaped convict Lou Handy and his two sadistic sidekicks. Premier FBI negotiator Arthur Potter expects this showdown to be relatively routine--after all, Handy and his pals aren't terrorists out to make a point, just felons trying to make their getaway--so he figures he can string the negotiations out and wear out the bad guys. But as soon as the police rig up Handy with a cellular phone, he threatens to kill one hostage an hour until he gets transport and more weapons, and he starts out right away to show he's not kidding. Meanwhile, Potter's supposed allies from the local scene are busy undermining him: The governor has authorized a rogue operation to storm the slaughterhouse; a maverick assistant attorney general has ideas about swapping himself for the hostages; and the Fourth Estate, unaware that Handy's watching himself on TV, is plotting to get some close-up footage of the big event. The only hope, it seems, is with patient, uncompromising Potter, together with Kansas cop Charlie Budd; timid hostage Melanie Charrol, an apprentice teacher; and Sharon Foster, a state detective who talked Handy out of an earlier confrontation. But just when it seems that the situation's finally under control, Dearer ignites some diabolical new fireworks that will leave you agog. If this climax strains too hard for Hannibal Lecter supervillainy, most readers will be too busy losing their sleep over Deaver's outsized thriller and casting its other roles--Marlee Matlin looks like a shoo-in for Melanie--to care.