cover image All Fall Down

All Fall Down

Zachary Alan Fox. Kensington Publishing Corporation, $22 (376pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-139-1

""There were twenty-seven children on the school bus when Lowell Alexander DeVries stepped on board in a clown suit, put a gun to Linda Sowell's head and said, `I'll kill you right now if you give me any trouble.'"" From this opening sentence to the final page, first-novelist Fox seduces readers with a chilling tale about a town terrorized by a merciless psychopath who demands $20 million for the return of a busload of physically and mentally handicapped children. Single mom Ellen Camacho, a 34-year-old policewoman living on an Indian reservation in Las Cruces in the Southern California desert near Palm Springs, must find the victims before the kidnapper kills them all. The pressure escalates as DeVries murders one child to demonstrate the seriousness of his intent. Sexy Matt LaSalle, an FBI whiz in his 30s, arrives with a team to bolster the local cops, igniting a battle for turf with police chief Paul Whitehorse. Matt also plants seeds of discontent in Ellen, who is sleeping with Whitehorse, who's her boss. Tension mounts as a complex maze of subplots develops around the ensuing power struggle between Matt and the chief, Ellen's unruly hormones and her desperate race to track down the killer before more children come to harm. Brimming with rich characters, romance and suspense, the plot resolves in a breathtaking denouement. Though reminiscent of Mary Willis Walker's Red Scream and Jeffrey Deaver's Maiden's Grave, this sure-handed debut marks the advent of a strong new talent. (Mar.)