TIME's R.Z. Sheppard says that if novelist and sometime National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu continues with the kinks and Gothic whoopee of his new book (Simon & Schuster; 347 pages; $23), he could become as rich as Anne Rice. The only thing that may hold him back is his attempt to thicken his plot with serious themes. The story centers on Elizabeth Bathory, a real life 16th century Hungarian tyrant alleged to have killed 650 girls in the belief that bathing in their blood would preserve her youth and beauty. Codrescu pleats the 16th and 20th centuries together address his real concerns, the recurrent patterns of evil and its handmaiden, absolute authority.