A no-nonsense newsman tracks down a child sex-and-murder ring in Paulsen's second adult thriller, no more original than his first (Night Rituals, 1989) but as sleek and tightly controlled as the abundant juvenile fiction that's won him two Newbery Awards. Paulsen weaves his taut tale from three main plot lines that knot only in the last few pages. Most central is that of veteran Colorado crime-reporter Tally Janrus, who answers an urgent plea from a homicide cop: to help solve a nationwide series of sex-killings that have found several children mysteriously lying dead, battered and molested, in rural areas. Digging out leads from a sleazy fellow reporter, taking time out to visit his rancher girlfriend, Tally finally deduces that the dead kids were dropped from an airplane. Intercut with Tally's story is the multistrand tale of several villains, among them: Rev, an evangelist whose sideline is kidnapping children (including young Davey Hascombs, whose snatch and molestation give the novel its cruel, realistic edge) and turning them over to. . .amoral homosexual procurer Billee Constairs, who then sells the kids to. . .arch-criminal Carlyle Rissden, who pimps them to sadistic billionaires and then has them killed. Meanwhile, in further intercut chapters, an ancient and ill Hispanic waits by a lonely airstrip in New Mexico, rifle in hand, hoping to spot a drug-smuggling airplane and get a reward with which to buy medicine. When the plot lines tie up, a rough justice prevails; before then, Tally will have lost his girlfriend, leaving him at novel's end with only his journalist's code, his battered Olivetti, and "the story"—not enough for happiness, but probably enough for a sequel. A familiar tale, with echoes of Leonard, Vachss, and Chandler; but without a wasted word in the telling, and with sharply drawn characters, it's still lean, swift, and satisfying.
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