Picks and Pans Review: Love Me to Death

updated 03/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Linda Wolfe

Ricardo Caputo, with his Latin-lover looks and his Old World manners, was a master seducer. He wrote love poems to his girlfriends, took romantic vacations with them and even charmed their parents. Unfortunately, Caputo also developed a nasty habit of killing women who loved him.

True-crime journalist Linda Wolfe (Wasted, Double Life) has more than a professional interest in Caputo: One of the women he is suspected of killing—Jacqui Bernard, a 62-year-old social activist—was her friend. Wolfe is obsessed with finding out how Caputo could have fooled the women—many of them well-educated and presumably savvy professionals—he victimized cross-country starting in the 1970s. The one trait they shared, Wolfe suggests, was their desire to nurture a man. Though Wolfe tries to convince herself that she would have recognized Caputo for the "beautiful snake" he was, she comes to the haunting conclusion that any one of us could have been fooled by him.

Though Love Me to Death lacks the propulsive suspense of the best crime books, Wolfe's outrage—which peaks when Caputo claims insanity at his 1994 trial for the murder of Natalie Brown, a Manhattan bank teller—is a wonder to behold. (Eventually he pleaded guilty to manslaughter; he died in prison last October at 48.) Unfortunately her personal involvement works against her; too often we hear about her own reactions rather than the crimes. For all of Wolfe's legwork, Caputo remains a terrifying enigma. (Pocket, $24)

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