Picks and Pans Review: Judgment Call

updated 07/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Suzy Wetlaufer

Sherry Estabrook is the kind of reporter who can step over a corpse and fret only about getting blood on her stockings. Tough and talented, she can also score a scoop with a toss of her luxurious locks. Yes, Estabrook, the protagonist of this heart-stopping first novel, is the very model of an investigative journalist—until she stumbles upon that dream story, the potential prize winner that prods her toward a fatal Judgment Call.

Anybody who really knows Estabrook wouldn't be surprised by the lack of common sense. But Sherry is a woman of hidden lives and lies. Running away from a rotten relationship with her rich, elusive parents, she divides her time between the crime reporting that seems beneath her Harvard degree, and her liaison with a married photographer. As a diversion, she has developed a full-blown feud with her crotchety neighbors. The only solid relationship in her life is her friendship with fellow Miami Citizen reporter Belinda McEvoy, a young woman just as bedeviled by past betrayals.

Assigned with McEvoy to investigate schoolyard drug use, Estabrook is approached by Manuel Velo, 16, who claims to be an assassin for a cocaine ring, responsible for some 18 murders. To Sherry, it is "the most shocking, terrifying, newsworthy story she had ever heard."

Judgment Call recounts, in frightening detail and psychological depth, the seduction of Estabrook by this evil child—a psychopath Sherry chooses to perceive as "a very screwed-up kid who had lost his moral compass in a city with crime beckoning from every direction...."

Wetlaufer, herself a Harvard M.B.A. and former Miami Herald reporter, has written a richly textured thriller that finds its unique power in the ricocheting tensions of its diverse characters. (Morrow, $20)

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