cover image Cradle and All

Cradle and All

Fox, Zachary Alan Fox. Kensington Publishing Corporation, $23.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-438-5

The latest psychological thriller by the author of All Fall Down deftly spins together terrifying elements--child abuse, kidnapping, mysterious illnesses and a deranged stalker--to create the ultimate nightmare for a new mother. Kate McDonald is a social worker at an L.A. hospital; her husband, Paul, is a deputy district attorney. The couple are ecstatic about their eight-month-old son, Alex, but when the boy suffers one mishap after another--rats in his crib, a case of swine flu, evidence of ligature marks--the Mcdonalds are suspected of abusing him. At the same time, Kate suffers dizziness and blackouts, and she receives frightening messages on her computer. To complicate things, she discovers Paul has been unfaithful and threatens divorce; he retaliates by trying to prove her mentally ill, accusing her of Munchausen's syndrome. When someone kidnaps Alex, Kate accepts the help of policeman Nick Cerovic to try to find her baby. Their hunt for clues means digging into Kate's tragic past, a saga that includes another failed marriage and a dead child. Though she was cleared of wrongdoing, her husband now is convinced of her guilt in both cases. To add to the nightmare, Kate is further plagued by a bizarre stalker obsessed with making her suffer. Kate is so pugnacious and defensive throughout her ordeal, however, that readers may find her difficult to care for. Her plight is horrifying, demanding much emotional and mental strength, yet Fox chooses to foreground her beauty as her defining trait, effectively limiting the reader's emotional involvement. The story is briskly told, however, and there are enough suspenseful plot twists and surprises to keep pages turning until the high-voltage denouement. (Aug.)