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IN BRIEF

NONFICTION : SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL b y Suzanne Finstad (William Morrow: $20; 416 pp.).

July 07, 1991|Karen Stabiner

Sad but true: Murder victims and near-victims are supporting an entire wing of the publishing industry. Finstad, a former trial lawyer, tells us the story of Barbara Piotrowski, a bright, pretty young woman with an interest in Plato and beauty contests, a gorgeous girl of troublesome naivete. She falls in love with Richard Minns, twice her age, a Texas millionaire and danger-seeker who, on their first meeting, tells her of his plan to fight a killer shark on his coming birthday. Then she moves to Houston to be with him, which is the same reason his wife of 25 years lives there. Somebody shoots her four times as she's coming out of a doughnut shop. Years later, she is recovering from paralysis and four men are behind bars, though not Richard Minns, who owes Piotrowski millions of dollars in a civil judgment that she will never be able to collect. The true-crime books that endure tell a story larger than the particular crime they focus on. This one hooks the reader because the characters, both good and bad, are so bizarre, but it doesn't last. Their idiosyncrasies, and the writer's stilted style, do the story in.

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