Picks and Pans Review: Monkeewrench

updated 05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/2003 01:00AM

By P.J. Tracy
Critic's Choice

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This novel was written by a pseudonymous mother-and-daughter team, P.J. and Traci Lambrecht, but it's much more than a novelty. Monkeewrench is a killer read in every way. An odd-lot crew of technonerds who are partners in a successful software company develop a hot new game, Serial Killer Detective. Players graduate from murder to murder, 20 in all. But when the very real corpse of a young woman is found draped over a tombstone in a graveyard, they realize one gamer is transforming the virtual into gruesome reality: The death pose precisely mimics game scenario No. 2.

The software developers, led by company head Grace McBride, go to the police. The cops consider them suspects because of their tricky past: Ten years ago the hackers programmed themselves new identities. Meanwhile the killer plays on. With full police and media presence at Minneapolis's Mall of America, a woman is murdered in a dressing room. The next target, according to game rules, will be a teacher in a classroom. With its menacing suspense, snappy dialogue and techno edge, Monkeewrench moves at hyperspeed. (Putnam, $23.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Thriller fans will go ape

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