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by Sarah Lovett

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-43561-1
Publisher: Villard

 Forensic evaluator Dr. Sylvia Strange takes time off from diagnosing murderous sociopaths to investigate the case of a little girl who refuses to talk. Of course, dealing with the girl she comes to know as Serena isn't such a change of pace after all, even though Sylvia would never know that from the phone call that jerks her awake one night. The child who piloted an auto away from the scene of a brutal execution, and into the path of an oncoming train, obviously isn't mute because of an illness or physiological condition; there's some psychological trauma behind her refusal to speak. The exact reason Serena won't talk is a mystery, but there's no mystery about the horrific life she's been forced to lead lately, bereft of her parents (whoever they are) and her murdered protector, and stalked by Lorenzo Santos Portillo, a maniacally determined assassin who shrugs off protective custody, security guards, and Sylvia's attack dog and just keeps on coming. As Sylvia and her fiancÇ, New Mexico State cop Matt England, puzzle over the pieces of Serena's background--and her relation to death row inmate Cash Wheeler and well-heeled Noelle Harding--Renzo keeps switching gears but not missions, preparing to execute Serena as she sleeps in Sylvia's spare room or in the hospital where she's been stashed. It's ghoulish fun watching this present-day Terminator get into position over and over without delivering the knockout blow, but the child-in-jeopardy genre, though it focuses Lovett's energetic portraits of evil better than the sprawling Dangerous Attachments (1995) and Acquired Motives (1996), also gives her patient hit-man, fueled on synthetic heroin yet mysteriously never out of control, an almost soothingly ritualistic quality. This guy is so unstoppable you can't believe he's really going to kill the kiddie before Sylvia can make her diagnosis. Less wildly over the top, but also less distinctive, than Lovett's striking first two. Fans of endangered children will probably do better sticking with Abigail Padgett.