Tough cop tracks a Rambo-like psychokiller to his Outer Banks lair in a gory, predictable, but rapid-reading fish-out-of-water thriller. It's not enough that a family of tourists are bludgeoned to death in a tiny motel room in the breezy, laid-back Outer Banks of North Carolina. Why did the killer hack off his victims' fingers and toes? Exceedingly competent, gung-ho Dare Country Police Lieutenant Devon Walker grows annoyed when his investigation is frustrated by squeamish, backbiting ``Banker'' politicos who fear that the grim publicity will upset the tourists. In dialogue so wooden that even Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn't play it for laughs, Devon, not a native, moans that ``the mayor doesn't trust me because I'm from New Jersey.'' Meanwhile, a burly, bearded fellow whose black pick-up has a North Carolina license plate is kidnapping gay men from as far away as Manhattan. Could this be the same villain who murdered a recently married Pittsburgh couple vacationing in the Outer Banks? Saunders, whose previous series of comic historicals followed the Flashman-like adventures of Fenwick Travers (Fenwick Travers and the Panama Canal, 1995, etc.), keeps this minutely plotted catalogue of cop novel clichÇs fresh with fun facts about DNA blood testing, telephone calling cards, and police department budgets. He also unveils a few local oddballs, such as the cross-dressing kleptomaniac who also happens to be psychic, and the insidious Dr. Severus Triskelion, a surgeon (also from New Jersey) who likes hurting his patients more than healing them. As a hurricane rages overhead, Devon finds himself in an explosive firefight with a demented, heavily armed Special Forces vet who just may be a descendant of the notorious pirate Blackbeard. Lame dialogue, discursive plotting, and a preposterous shoot- 'em-up climax aside, Saunders's series opener satisfies more than not, offering page-turning suspense and the author's meticulous respect for detail.
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