Picks and Pans Review: Tender Prey

updated 07/25/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Patricia Roberts

"Teeth and hair and the washed-out eyes of old saints were on Hackett's mind when he woke the next morning." That's the beginning of the 12th chapter of Roberts' suspenseful first novel about a Depression-era madman who preys on widows with little girls. Hackett is the New York detective assigned to the case. The most awesome character, however, is the villain, an immigrant from Northern Ireland. His evil didn't just happen—it was bred into him by an indifferent mother and a cruel matron who ran the orphans' home where he spent his childhood, as well as by his first wife, who ran off with another man. That the reader comes to understand this villain so well makes him all the more frightening. This is a murder mystery, a detective story, a horror tale. It is also a love story—the detective is involved in an affair with a beautiful married woman. Then there is a smart young girl—she's the older sister of one of the victims—who has had to be a grownup all her life and who understands far more about adults than even she realizes. Although Roberts grew up in London, this is not one of those polite British-style thrillers. The sex is plentiful, and the three murders are genuine shockers. The author, who is now a copy editor for PEOPLE, combines those elements into a polished, insightful story of dark violence. (Doubleday, $13.95)

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