May 28, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Not since Hannibal Lecter has there been quite so seductively, sanely evil a killer as Merec, the Beelzebub of Kate Morgenroth?s debut thriller Kill Me First. In the midst of a killing spree, Merec encounters a woman named Sarah Shepherd who fears neither death nor its messenger. He takes her hostage, tortures her a bit, videotapes the event, and airs the tapes for the world, turning her into a media sensation. Thus begins a psychological cat-and-mouse game involving Merec, FBI agent Tresler, and Sarah, as they feint and probe and try to outsmart each other. But who is the cat and who is the mouse? It’s never entirely clear; the most accurate answer may be the writer and the reader. What is clear is that despite their quasi-love triangle, these three never let emotions get in the way of their actions, which prove destructive, dangerous, and compulsively readable. A-

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