IN THE late 1940s through the '60s it was I Married a Communist or I Married a Monster from Outer Space; and in the 1980s and '90s, it's become I Married a Sociopath. This week's entry in the genre is Gary Provost's Perfect Husband. The subtitle, which highlights the title's irony with rockets and flares, also summarizes the plot.

Provost tells the story of Lisa Paspalakis, a young Greek-American, and Konstantin Fotopoulos-Kosta, a Greek emigre. Lisa's family was well-off; her father, whom she helped out, ran the Joyland Amusement Center in Daytona Beach, home to many Greek-Americans. One day she met the hard-working Kosta, who turned the powers of his considerable charm on her. They dated, fell in love, married.

Her husband did not come from a poor family, but his relatives weren't nearly as comfortable as Lisa's. Kosta had hoped that Lisa's father would cut him in on the action; instead he wound up doing odd jobs around the amusement center. And though Kosta had plenty of business schemes, Lisa's father would never bankroll them. Finally he opened a pool hall on the boardwalk -- not the new, upscale sort of pool hall, but the old-fashioned kind that attracts, as they say, bad elements. This amounted to a slap in the face to his wife, who was mounting a campaign to clean up the boardwalk. Still, Lisa was glad her husband had found something to do. What she didn't realize was that he had begun running criminal operations out of his pool hall, recruiting the young drifters who hung out there.

One day her father died abruptly (possible poisoning, never proved). A year or so later Kosta began an affair with a young drifter, Deidre Hunt. "In a matter of weeks after her arrival in Florida Deidre learned more about Kosta Fotopoulos than Lisa had learned in four years. Deidre learned that Kosta was a pimp, a counterfeiter, a sadist, a car thief, an arms smuggler, and a murderer." They fell in love.

To Lisa, her husband seemed a normal guy; perhaps he loved his guns a bit much, and maybe there was something odd about the way he was always burying them in the backyard and the woods, but basically he seemed sound.

So she had no reason to suspect her husband's complicity when one day a young man with a gun tried backing Lisa into the money room of the amusement center. She escaped, but she couldn't help connecting it to the sense that lately she was being followed. Soon after, another young man broke into their home -- this time to shoot Lisa in the head while she slept. Kosta woke up and killed the intruder with his gun. Lisa survived, but the police -- and Lisa's brother -- had questions; and after an investigation it came out that Kosta had arranged for her murder. Both he and Deidre were arrested and tried for numerous crimes including murder. Their convictions landed them on death row.

Perfect Husband is only 229 pages; the prose is utilitarian-verging-on-screenplay, yet it feels overwritten. In chapter two, Provost quotes at length Jack Levin, author of Mass Murder, on the meaning of "sociopath," then keeps returning to Levin like clockwork, as if all this social psychology explains anything. "If {Deidre's mother} had deliberately tried to create a sociopath she could not have done a better job than she did. Certainly Levin's 'profound disruption' and 'lack of bonding' are descriptions of Deidre's infancy." Another young drifter is described as "part of the great majority of juvenile delinquents who are not permanently sociopathic . . ." And so on. Provost also seems to lack a grasp on what exactly constitutes borderline behavior. He writes that Deidre's mother "was oblivious to the fact that her daughter was free-falling into a sordid life of drugs, booze, bisexuality, and crime."

The book finally suffers because the characters fail to matter to us. No one on the premises seems particularly sympathetic, let alone bright or even interestingly twisted. Certainly Kosta is no evil genius. In an effort to insure that Deidre can never blackmail him, Kosta tells her that he belongs to a secret club of assassins; to join, you have to kill someone and allow another member to videotape the murder. Each member holds an incriminating videotape of another member. Okay, she says. So they take some poor boardwalk imbecile into the woods and tie him to a tree, where Kosta videotapes Deidre while she shoots him through the chest and head. Unfortunately for the director of this little snuff film, though he managed to keep himself off-camera his voice got recorded -- so when the police confiscate the videotape it's what finally does him in. Maybe that's sociopathic. But in my book it's just stupid and evil.

Michael Covino is the author of the short story collection, "The Off-Season," and has done investigative crime reporting for California magazine and the Bay Area weekly, the Express.