Randy D. Singer, . . WaterBrook, $13.99 (432pp) ISBN 978-1-57856-776-8

Singer, who won the 2003 Christy Award in the suspense category for Directed Verdict , hits pay dirt again with this taut, intelligent thriller for the Christian market. When fundamentalist Christians Thomas and Theresa Hammond decide not to take their desperately ill toddler to the emergency room and rely solely on healing through prayer, tragedy ensues. They are indicted on murder charges and team up with maverick defense attorney Charles Arnold, who is assisted by Nikki Moreno from Directed Verdict , a sexy, manipulative, Erin Brockovitch of a legal assistant who talks tough but has a heart of gold. As the plot unfolds, readers learn about complications in the case that may lead to the Hammonds' acquittal: the ambitious prosecutor has unscrupulously engineered evidence and carried on a clandestine affair with a key witness, while another witness may have manufactured testimony to ensure a particular outcome to the case. The novel isn't perfect; the first half is a bit slow, and the Hammonds' five-year-old son, Tiger, is implausibly wise and precocious. The "Barracuda" (prosecuting attorney Rebecca Crawford) is disappointingly one-dimensional, a stereotyped villainess who cares for nothing but furthering her career. Still, this is a groundbreaking book for the Christian market, with otherwise complex and well-drawn characters, a strong but subtle approach to matters of faith, and ingenious plotting, particularly in the last 50 pages. Singer is clearly an up-and-coming novelist to watch. (May 18)