Why, you may well ask, has this hackwork account of New York's ""Son of Sam"" killings been contrived as a novel? According to the authors, to ""avoid hurting"" people. Sure, fellas. The real reason, of course, is to avoid lawsuits, which is understandable--but the bad news for Messrs. B. and S. is that they can't have their cop-out cake and eat it too. The true-crime frisson comes only when the chronicler puts himself on the line--when action, atmosphere, and even speculations are locked into a moment-by-moment, documentary feel. With the freedom of ""invented people, places, and dates,"" and the freedom to fabricate along as they please, the authors of .44 guarantee the reader nothing and leave this book to stand as a novel-which it's in no condition to do. There's no suspense, since we know that ""Bernard Rosenfeld""--ordered to kill by demons and his neighbor Sam's howling dog-will shoot all those necking couples, write letters to the cops and to Jimmy Breslin (""Danny Cahill""), and finally get caught almost by mistake. There's no special insight into Bernard's madness, just the obvious extrapolations from his crazy letters and apartment full of graffiti. The dramatization is competent, barely--at its slangy best with the cops (some flickers of Breslin's late, lamented talent), at its melodrama worst with the killer on the stalk (""his soft eyes became low wood fires""). And, lowest of all, Breslin uses the fiction coverup to mythify himself (""a literate tough guy, a guy who could write out of the comer of his mouth"") and to take bitchy swipes at the journalistic competition, steeped in ""jealousy. . . so widespread, so intense. . . ."" Son-of-Sam aficionados may want to take the time to extract the inside info from the guesswork and the blarney. For everyone else: plodding, formless, cluttered with false leads and extraneous subplots--all the drawbacks of fact-based material, none of the draw.