Hookers, hopheads and hustlers do their thing in these 10 revealing articles that depict the underside of American middle-class life. Several of the pieces were published in shorter form in New York Magazine and all were written during the past decade. As Wolfe points out in her introduction, the principal figures in these ""tales of murder and madness"" are neither rich and famous nor especially poor and downtrodden. They are the kinds of people (or the children of the kinds of people) that Wolfe and her readers ""might know, entertain, work beside."" It's a chilling thought, verified in articles that, while vivid and fast-paced, are even more chillingly matter-of-fact. In the longest piece, a grant-garnering research scientist becomes obsessed with a money-hungry 20-year-old prostitute he picks up in Boston's grubby ""Combat Zone."" When she eventually tires of his wimpish attentions (and his depleted bank account), he crushes her skull with a two-and-a-half-pound sledgehammer. In another, twin gynecologists, both immensely successful and both deeply into drugs, overdose and starve themselves to death in an East Side New York apartment. Then, there is the story of Diane Delia, a transsexual Diana Ross impersonator at a gay suburban disco, who is murdered by his/her bartender ""husband"" when he/she decides to branch out into lesbianism. In telling these Grand Guignol narratives, Wolfe utilizes the ""non-fiction story"" techniques introduced by Truman Capote and refined by Tom Wolfe (no relation) to splendid effect. Characters are fully rounded, their quirks and quiddities captured in carefully observed details. Locales are deftly delineated. Situations crackle with tension; the suspense escalates from scene to scene. Most importantly, the author's psychological speculations are subtle and convincing, placing even the most bizarre behavior firmly in a human context. Wolfe's murderers and madmen are neither monsters nor ""misunderstood"": they suffer from mania, depression, drug abuse, sociopathy or hysteria. Twenty-five photographs (not seen) illustrate the text. Some readers may want to deny the implications of Wolfe's research; for most, however, her book will be a riveting, albeit disturbing, look into the darker comers of an American society that's ""just out there.