Housewife on the run from psychotic husband--in a crude, overextended melodrama which does, however, occasionally deliver some tense moments reminiscent of The Desperate Hours (Hayes' first, best-known book). The damsel-in-distress here is Brenda Forrest, who finally gets fed up with husband Donald: he's alcoholic, violent, paranoid, and prey to compulsive sexual jealousy--all attributable, it seems, to his bad Mother. So Brenda takes little son Toby and flees from the Connecticut suburbs to Sarasota, Fla., where she hides out with her old pal Charlene. But psycho Donald--powered by money, family connections, and madness--is on her trail. To learn Brenda's whereabouts, he terrorizes her parents (her father has a stroke) and nearly kills her lawyer. He finds Brenda, rapes and slugs her, kidnaps Toby, and beats Charlene's gorgeous actor-boyfriend to a pulp (because Donald saw him kiss Brenda on the cheek). Toby is rescued but must be hospitalized, having been rendered catatonic by the ordeal. And Donald--arrested but then let out on bail--assaults and murders as he continues to stalk Brenda, who is finding true love with Charlene's gentle brother Barry. . . while also becoming determined to take the law into her own hands: ""I won't take any more if I have to kill the cruel, vicious sonofabitch myself!"" Finally, then, there's a violent showdown on Donald's boat, with Barry trying to prevent Brenda from committing murder. . . . A sturdy, familiar suspense scenario--and Hayes shows strength in the scenes of the truly innocent (Brenda's lawyer, Toby's doctor) being terrorized. But the psychology is primitive; the legal issues are oversimplified (Joy Fielding's Kiss Mommy Goodbye does a far better job with the custody trauma); and the small, serviceable melodrama here is diluted and weakened by being stretched out to 320 talky, overdone pages.