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Kit Craig. Little Brown and Company, $14.95 (278pp) ISBN 978-0-316-15923-4

A genuinely frightening, unpredictable plot throbbing with menace and escalating horror, appealing characters thrust into mortal danger, and a chilling portrait of a charismatic serial killer distinguish this outstanding psychological thriller, the pseudonymous Craig's debut. The morning after a homicidal psychopath abducts Clary Hale from her Connecticut home, her three children awake bewildered by her absence. Michael and his sister Teah are teenagers; their brother, Tom, is 4. As military brats (their father was lost commanding a nuclear submarine on a secret mission), they are accustomed to obeying orders, so at first they believe the phone caller who says their mother is also on a secret project and that they are not to tell anyone she is gone. Soon, however, they decide to try to find her, using the one clue they have: the address of their maternal grandparents (whom they have never met). With their not-too-bright cleaning lady as driver, the kids begin a hegira down the East coast that brings them--and their captive mother--ever closer to triggering the obsessed villain's bloodlust. Craig excels in her depiction of a wholesome American family tipped into a horrifying situation. Her control of narrative momentum is unflagging, and her assured prose is levels above the usual standards of the genre. BOMC and QPB selections. (July)