cover image Until Proven Guilty

Until Proven Guilty

Christine McGuire. Pocket Books, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-75011-4

McGuire, a California prosecutor who made her literary debut with an account of a real-life sexual enslavement case ( Perfect Victim ), turns her attention to crime fiction with gripping results. This unrelenting third-person account of a vicious serial killer all but commands readers to burn the midnight oil. It reveals the criminal's identity from the start: Lee Russell, a high-school teacher, slays and mutilates teenage Hispanic girls who remind him of his hated stepsister. While on a tour of duty in Saigon, Lee murdered Saigon prostitutes; never discovered, he now feels invincible and sends coded messages about his more recent victims to the Santa Rita, Calif., sheriff's office. There, senior trial attorney Kathryn Mackay and her partner, Inspector Dave Granz, unflinchingly sift through the gruesome evidence of Russell's horrific crimes. Kathryn, a divorcee and mother of a six-year-old daughter, juggles home life, police work and friendships with her colleagues; she also meets her nemesis, true-crime TV reporter Richard Sanchez, who jeopardizes the investigation by broadcasting information obtained from an inside source. McGuire expertly builds suspense as the killer's path converges with that of the law. Although the squeamish may want to avert their eyes from the book's hideous scenes of torture and murder, pathological details and criminal profiles unfailingly rivet the attention. (July)