Another serial-killer strikes—but with a most satisfying spin: The villain in former adman King's sharp and clever first novel is a James Bond gone bad. On the trail of former CIA agent Julian Lamb, now teaching incognito at a small New Jersey college, is NYPD detective Jake ``Cool Moves'' Harrow. Introduced as he's bluffing down drug- dealers in the first of King's many white-knuckled scenes, Jake is sucked into Lamb's vortex when the killer brutally rape-slays the Illinois family of Jake's brother, masking the deaths as suicide- murders by the brother. But when Jake flies west and finds the family's newly adopted son Winston hiding in a closet, the cop realizes that a stranger killed the family. Eyewitness Winston, however, mute from a lifetime of neglect, can't help (despite Jake's moving efforts to open him up), and a newly organized NYPD- FBI task force is frayed by petty rivalries. Meanwhile, fierce flashbacks detail the genesis of the killer (child abuse) and his bloody CIA career, ending with his faking his own death and reincarnating as linguistics expert Lamb—who now begins to track Jake's wife (in a credulity-stretching subplot hinging on her writerly ambitions) and then Winston. Working with forensic evidence, headstrong Jake—whose insubordinate methods have made him a pariah with the NYPD—realizes that the killer must be a former agent. Enraged, Jake storms CIA headquarters, which only gets Lamb's ex-boss, his career on the line, gunning for both the cop and the killer—with all three having it out in a slick and savage climax. Marred by too much coincidence, but vigorous characters, intricate plotting, and keen suspense make King's debut a standout nonetheless.
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