BLOOD MUSIC by Jessie Pritchard Hunter (Crown: $20; 306 pp.) Across the Hudson from Manhattan, the huge sign, older than Grant's Tomb, continues to blink its message: "Maxwell House; Good to the Last Drop." Over there, at the base of the sign, eternally taunted by the New York skyline, is Hoboken, N.J., a city known but to God, Sinatra and Jessie Pritchard Hunter-- "a city without grace," she calls it, "a friendly dog with mange." Over there, too, lives a vicious killer, flashing his own message to Manhattan. Blondes are his prey, to be slashed, then raped in "the moment of perfect love"--all to the strains of Schubert's "Quartetsatz," fully orchestrated in his head, the melody on his lips.

Back in Hoboken, Zelly Wyche, an unremarkable housewife and mother content with a life circumscribed by family, makes dinner for husband Pat, an unremarkable electrician. As he climbs the stairs, Zelly can tell by his step that he's in a rare good mood. That and his whistle--Schubert's "Quartetsatz."

Pat's lethal forays are stupefying. (From and to Hoboken he stops off to slither through Manhattan's meat-packing district, a surpassingly vile neighborhood whose female whores are obliged to identify themselves as Gennies--genetic women.) More compelling, though, is the fate of Zelly, who follows the killer in the tabloids and gradually begins to make the match.

Hunter, a first-timer, could use a better editor: sweetbreads are not brains; the Yanks don't play the Phils. Still, the blood flows freely enough. Not quite good to the last drop, but not the dregs, either.

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