Another bout of empathetic misery for the most depressive detective in contemporary fiction. This time Dave Strickland, still convalescing from the savage attack he survived in Murdered Sleep (1994), is hired to track down the person who's been making anonymous threats against John Havens, the Santa Cruz ad agent who turned grief counselor after his son Ricky was killed in an apartment fire. Havens's current support group includes the parents of two children who've been kidnapped and burned to death, and the notes and calls he's been getting imply, hideously, that the group has been sacrificing its own children. None of the parents are eager to talk to Dave—there's a particularly painful scene with a father who's withdrawn from the group and from his own life into the stillness of deep mourning- -and Dave's only hope of opening them up is sharing his own unquenchable grief over the deaths of his daughter (SIDS) and wife (suicide). To leaven the mix, Davis adds an ex-con arsonist Dave had helped put away and a local female cop who'd switched years ago to women after her two-night stand with Dave, but they don't do much to lighten this vale of tears, or to strengthen the twisted, implausible plot. Davis's spiritual bloodbaths, in which murder merely sets the stage for the real suffering, aren't for everybody. But readers who aren't afraid to burrow deep into Dave and the others will find that no genre writer but P.D. James takes death more seriously.
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