Van Arman, you'll recall, made headlines when he was accused of counterfeiting blurbs from John le CarrÇ and others about this, his first novel. Van Arman denied the charge—but if he did write the blurbs, he needn't have bothered: This exceptional thriller stands on its own as one of the most knowing and powerful explorations of serial killers and those who hunt them. At the center of the complex plot is Jack Scott, 56-year-old head of VICAT, a federal agency (based closely on the real-life VICAP) that tracks serial killers. Intensely dedicated, Scott proves a touchstone of decency for others as the gripping events unfold, as well as a fount of the fascinating serial-killer lore that braces the novel: e.g., that 99% are ``recreational'' killers, sane but devoid of emotion, who kill to stimulate the rush that true emotion brings. Scott hunts three such killers here: a pair of businessmen busy butchering their prey in Florida; and, centrally, Zak Dorani, a master serial killer who supposedly died 20 years ago in prison. Scott picks up Zak's trail when a boy living in Bethesda, Maryland—depicted as the sort of soulless suburb that's a perfect stalking ground for serial killers—unearths a skull with spikes in its head: the same sort of spikes that Zak used to kill with years before. Galvanized, Scott sets up a task force seconded by a local cop, an ex-Army assassin whose hotheadedness is a perfect counterpoint to Scott's cool. In scenes boiling with tension, the Florida killers (whom Scott eventually ties to Zak) go on a rampage: Zak stalks and kills; victims and their families agonize; and Scott and his team relentlessly chase their quarry— all climaxing in a ferocious finale outside the Lincoln Memorial and a trapping of Zak that dispenses justice poetically and without mercy. Myriad subplots slacken the narrative a bit, but, still, this is an awesome entertainment: exciting, profoundly moving, and bristling with a fierce and frightening reality.
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