Crime novelist Cook (Blood Innocents, Tabernacle, Sacrificial Ground, etc.) turns his attention to the true-crime genre--with mixed results. During the early 1980's, Judith Neelley and her husband Alvin abducted 13-year-old Lisa Ann Millican in Fort Payne, Ala.; after raping and torturing the girl, they killed her. A short time later, another young woman disappeared from the area; her badly decomposed remains were eventually found. With a sure hand, Cook details the police procedures involved in unravelling the murders, showing how seemingly unrelated incidents--shots fired into the home of a correction facility worker, the firebombing of another worker's house--contributed to tracking down Neelley and her husband. Cook is equally adept at delineating the Neelleys' milieu, a world of fast-food outlets, video arcades, seedy motels, and CB radios. Touching on the potential legal significance of the case, he points out that Judith Neelley's defense during her trial hinged on the jury's acceptance of her as a battered wife, terrified of her husband. The jury was unconvinced, and Judith was sentenced to death, while Alvin received a life sentence. Judith's case is still under appeal. It is in his failure to offer any but the most superficial explanations for Neelley's behavior that Cook disappoints. When one prosecutor comments, ""She's one mean bitch. . .she liked scaring people, dominating them,"" it's as close to analysis as the reader gets. What could have been a riveting and revealing psychological portrait, then, ends in ""bad seed"" platitudes.