The focus here, as in the searing, probing Still Missing (p. 587), is on the anguish of a young woman whose small child has vanished. But Koenig (The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane) opts for pure, straight-ahead melodrama--with a sleuth-and-chase that snakes through the rancid worst of Manhattan's sleazier and hairier environs. Susannah Bartok (""White bread and canned vegetables. Sensationally average"") has left her California home and husband Scott; with two-year-old Laddie, she reluctantly puts up at a seedy Times Square hotel overnight before taking a bus to her father in Vermont. But it's December 21--so, in quest of presents and a glimpse of Santa, Susannah heads for some evening shopping. And then, on the sidewalk, Susannah is Maced, and Laddie. . . is gone. Poor Susannah gets no real help from the stymied police. But she soon finds an ally: Victoria Cruz, a tough, story-hungry ace-reporter (Cuban-born, chain-smoking, lesbian stereotype) who takes charge, sends Susannah to riffle through the newspaper kidnapping files, reels her in from hysteria, and even takes her to a famous psychic (who sees Laddie ""in a drawer, a box""). There's no sign of Laddie's body at the morgue, however. So, with help from Victoria's social-worker ex-lover, the women focus on the likelihood that Laddie is the victim of a black-market-baby operation. There's a stake-out at the Plaza, a near-fatal visit to Soho (by this time Susannah's added, a switchblade to her Manhattan survival kit), a tearful session with another bereft, parent. And even after Susannah splits with Victoria because of her by-line exploitation in the paper, Victoria prowls alone--eventually finding those ""boxes"" before being disposed of by a batch of creepy villains. Finally, then, Susannah must--against the advice of police and returned husband Scott--take up the torch (and deadly weapon), following Victoria's footsteps. . . to a tick-tocking race to the airport in the midst of stalled traffic. Sleekly cinematic, with accelerating round-the-clock tension in a red-eyed New York nobody could ever love: a skin-deep but grimly gripping thriller.