Kennett’s latest Hannibal Lecter wannabe (Gray Matter, 1996, etc.) is Thomas Gray’s new friend, Columbus Wade, age 12. Columbus is as interested in virtual reality as Thomas’s mother PJ—a clinical psychologist running the St. Louis Police Department’s Computerized Homicide Investigations Project—but he’s a lot nastier about his uses for the new technology. A textbook sociopath who likes to torture animals because his yuppie parents have neglected him, Columbus tastes his first human blood by accident, but then there’s no stopping him as he works his way through the Deaver school’s teaching staff. PJ and her scruffy sidekick, Det. Leo Schultz, would rather be digging dirt on the year-old murder of gallery owner Patrick Washburn, but their suspicions on that score are so apt that it’s just as well Columbus is around to provide some diversion. Kennett’s matter-of-fact portrait of her pint-sized serial killer is so flatly literal (Columbus schemes to split Thomas from his old friend Winston Lakeland so that he can have him under his own exclusive sway, meanwhile rehearsing his crimes in virtual reality simulations) that it has a chilling lack of affect. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are equally flat, and since Kennett reserves no secrets about Columbus’s gruesome killings, there’s not much to do while you wait for PJ and Schultz to surmount their doubts and hesitations about suspecting a little kid before the little kid carves up the rest of the cast.