The drive for this suspense grabber set in Kentucky, about the search for a child held by cult creeps, is supplied by the tough, jumpy, compassionate-to-hurting p.i. Lena Padget, specializing in crimes aimed at women and children--ever since her cult-immersed brother-in-law Jeff killed Lena's sister and his own little son. Jeff is now out on parole--and on the prowl--as is another choice ex-con, Archie (robbery and associated arts his specialties). Archie returns to wife Eloise to find his loot. She barely escapes with her life, but Archie runs off with her four-year-old son, Charlie, in spite of Lena's swinging baseball bat. Will Lena find Charlie before there's a cult sacrifice? Partnering Lena is police sergeant Joel Mendez, to whom Lena is attracted even through the grief for her sister (why couldn't the police have come in time?). The pair call in favors and spread the net; Lena interviews a mental patient and former cult member, treks back and forth to Tennessee, where Charlie was last seen, combs woods with a park ranger, and, in the tandem work with Mendez, makes the final guess and call, and has a deadly last laugh. For Hightower's first hardcover: Great talk, heavy action, and, in Lena, a gritty lady with a future.