Touching Evil
by Kay Hooper, contemporary/paranormal (2001)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1278-8

I am scared. I made a big mistake of reading Touching Evil at one in the morning. Not even hugging my giant Balbasaur plushie and sleeping only at seven in the morning could keep the willies away. Kay Hooper's latest paranormal serial-killer-get-him-GET-HIM! story doesn't cover any new grounds, but it pushes all my psychological fear buttons.

How does it do that? The usual serial-killer-on-the-loose staple: victimization and violence on women. But this time around, the feelings of exploitation and sadism are compounded by the truly evil acts of the serial killer. Highlights include mutilation of the victims' eyes and a really gruesome act of violence on a pregnant woman.

The heroine, Maggie Benson, is a... hmm, what is her job title anyway? She is psychic, ie she can experience the traumas of the people she is talking to. Hence in this alternate universe where the US Police Department and the FBI believe in the paranormal, Maggie is often called in to interrogate witnesses. When a woman survives a harrowing attack from a serial killer, Maggie is called in.

Also in the case is rich businessman John Garrett who uses his money and influence to bulldoze his way into the case. His sister also survived the serial killer only to kill herself in the traumatic aftermaths, and John is determined to see the killer brought behind bars. But he is skeptical about all this psychic see-your-mind stuff of Maggie's. Meanwhile, the serial killer strikes again. And again. And again.

Touching Evil is actually standard stuff - the killer is again the usual "normal, everyday-looking guy", our heroine will be traumatized all the time by her visions and sights, and... oh, the usual. Anyone familiar with the serial killer urban legends and movies and stuff will know what to expect here. At first I'm not too fond of John - what is he doing here? But it soon becomes clear that he is intended to be the placeholder for the reader. When Maggie explains things to him, she's also explaining things to me.

Oh, and the romance between her and John? Stingy is an understatement. Try miserly. But they do have sex, if that's any consolation. But the main focus of Touching Evil is the police procedures and investigations, the concept of evil, and, of course, gratuitous violence and exploitative death scenes. But I find myself reading non-stop until the last page. Granted, it manipulates me by bringing up all the danger a woman faces in a violent society, but that's what a good story is supposed to do, doesn't it? And it's good to be scared and wanting to kill the serial killer myself, because it's been too long since a book engages me emotionally.

The suspense is airtight at the top parameter of the dial, driving me close to falling off the edge of my seat. Maggie and John and the rest of the cops are likable, hardworking, noble people, and that's good, because it's so easy for me to root for them. And when I find myself crept out for the next few days long after the last page of this book, I think I've found a good one. Touching Evil is indeed evil. Evil in that it grabs me into its twisted world and never lets go.

Rating: 90

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