cover image Nothing Human

Nothing Human

Ronald Munson. Pocket Books, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-73024-6

Munson's outstanding debut novel presents John Haack, an intelligent, attractive man who leads a double life as Jaguar, a sadistic killer who decapitates his victims. This criminal is especially frightening because he insinuates himself so smoothly into the workaday world of Cambridge, Mass. Jaguar uses an exceptionally shrewd MO, methodically tracking his prey and giving them scary warnings. His latest obsession is Jill Brenner, a freelance writer recovering from the suicide of her lover. When she senses Jaguar's presence in her home, she contacts police lieutenant Eric Firecaster, a Harvard grad rebounding from a failed marriage. Munson creates a bristling, tense ambience with scenes like Jill's encounter with a snake left by Jaguar in her bedroom. Jill refuses to be a willing victim, choosing instead to outhunt the hunter. Munson, a professor at the University of Missouri who has also taught in Harvard Medical School's psychiatry department, gives excellent insights into Haack, whose psychosis stems from his rejection in childhood by his neurosurgeon mother. His earliest outlet having been science fiction, he now identifies specifically with the noble Paul Atreides of Frank Herbert's Dune and poses as him at Boscon, a science fiction convention also attended by Jill. Their deadly showdown caps a fine mix of sharp plot twists, believable characterizations and sophisticated writing. (July)