The September Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to Carol O'Connell for the stark and chilling Dead Famous. New York City policewoman Kathy Mallory, appearing here in her seventh outing, must bring in the Reaper, a serial killer who is systematically murdering the jurors in a high-profile homicide trial. Ripped, as they say, from the headlines, the case centers around a radio shock jock, a loudmouthed talk show host who skates just within the letter of the law, endangering the lives of innocent listeners in the process. With adversaries as diverse as the Reaper, the FBI and a beautiful raven-haired hunchback, Mallory cannot stay within the lines of police propriety and still catch her man. So as she has done so many times before she takes the law into her own hands and becomes a criminal's worst nightmare: a vigilante with a badge.

Mallory is tough as nails, a female equivalent of Burke, Andrew Vachss' legendary loner. She has at her command prodigious computer skills, expertise at martial arts and marksmanship, and the street savvy of a child raised alternately by prostitutes and cops. Mallory's somewhat down-at-the-heels ex-partner, Riker, plays a strong supporting role, kibitzing and lending a hand when circumstances threaten to overwhelm her. If there is any criticism to be leveled at Dead Famous, it is that there are several references to events that transpired in the previous book, Crime School. A case could be made for reading Crime School first, as it is also a certified white-knuckler. Buy both at one time, or for that matter, get the whole set!

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