A True Story of Family, Murder, and the Prosecutor Who Wouldn't QuitBy Kevin Flynn

Putnam. 375 pp. $25.95

Just before midnight on Sunday, May 26, 1993, 42-year-old Diane Hawkins and her 13-year-old daughter, Katrina Harris, were murdered at home in the Northeast Washington neighborhood of River Terrace, across the river from RFK Stadium. Both were stabbed to death. The mother was eviscerated; the daughter's head was almost severed and her heart was cut from her body, never to be found. "Relentless Pursuit" is the true story of this unspeakable crime and its aftermath, told by the lawyer in the U.S. Attorney's Office who guided the investigation and prosecuted the accused killer in court.

Within hours of the murders, acting on information from the family, police arrested Norman Harrell, a truck driver who was the father of one of Diane Hawkins's six children. Harrell had an apparent motive: Hawkins was suing him for child support, and they were due in court the next day. He also had opportunity, since he had visited the home the evening of the murders. But there were no eyewitnesses to the crime, and no murder weapon was found. Harrell's lawyer tried to prove that drug dealers might have been the killers. The search for justice became a long one, filled with unforeseen twists, and for those unfamiliar with the case, it is far from clear, right up to the book's final pages, what the outcome will be.

"Relentless Pursuit" presents a large cast of characters, but the two who matter most are Diane Hawkins, the murdered African American mother, and Kevin Flynn, the white Irish Catholic prosecutor who sought justice for her and her family. Flynn relates Hawkins's family history, all the way back to a slave named Sary, born in 1740 on a plantation in North Carolina. Diane's father, Wallace Hawkins, moved to Washington during the 1930s and found work with the sanitation department. Diane, one of 11 children, was born in 1950 and grew into an exuberant, larger-than-life woman who was the center of a vast network of family and friends.

She worked much of her life as a baker, struggling to make ends meet for her ever-expanding family, and she had her share of troubles, both with her children and with the men in her life. Several had drug problems, but the one accused of killing her, Harrell, did not. He was, however, a surly loner who had repeated conflicts with his bosses at a trucking company but kept his job thanks to the support of his union. One of Diane's friends reported that he had said he would kill any woman who tried to take him to court for child support. He was a hunter, and in one chilling twist, investigators found a hunting manual in his possession that told how to gut a deer in much the same fashion that the mother and daughter were killed.

Flynn, 36 at the time of the murders, grew up in Annandale, the only child of two civil servants. He graduated from Notre Dame and says that "it had been my dream since law school to prosecute violent crimes in the capital." He displays the mingled idealism and cynicism that one often finds in lawyers. At one point he says that when people asked what he did for a living, "I sometimes responded: 'I sit in an office where people come in and lie to me all day long.' " He is, as his book's title proclaims, relentless, and his exhaustive preparation for the trial provided the wealth of detail that make his book so fascinating. At one point he discusses the possibility of putting Diane Hawkins's youngest child, Kiki, who was present at the time of the murders but only 22 months old, on the stand. It seems, to a layman, an astonishing notion, and Flynn reluctantly puts it aside.

One of the book's most powerful themes is Flynn's relationship with Hawkins's extended family, with whom he sometimes dealt individually and sometimes in groups of 50 or more. He hints that there was a moment, when Harrell's black female lawyer and the black female judge in the trial seemed to have become soul mates, that some of the family feared he was not the right lawyer for this case. But mostly this is a story of ever-increasing respect, even love, on both sides. A scene when he is called upon to pray with the family is particularly moving. "I'd never held hands and prayed with anyone," he admits. He goes on to say, "On this day, I'd lost my faith in the God that I'd talked to since childhood, in many different voices. But I believed in this family -- God's surrogates, standing in front of me -- and for the foreseeable future I would think of them in the intervals I'd formerly filled with prayer."

"Relentless Pursuit" works well on many levels: as a police procedural and courtroom drama, as a candid portrait of life in black Washington and as an example of how decent people of both races can work together against the violence that threatens us all. The recent past has not been kind to America's prosecutors; the growing number of innocent people freed from prison by DNA testing has demonstrated that at least some are overzealous, incompetent or simply corrupt. "Relentless Pursuit" reminds us of all those other prosecutors who are honest, skilled and fighting to protect society from monsters. One does not ask that they also be good writers, but in Flynn's case that's an unexpected bonus.