Coburn's crime thrillers (The Trespassers, The Babysitter, Off Duty) have increasingly stressed atmosphere and character, with his recent Sweetheart a skillful blend of emotional resonance and rich plotting. But in this noir-ish tale of a top's search for a whore's killer, Coburn tries so hard for significance that he nearly buries his baroque plot beneath deep, vibrant strata of character motivation. He begins obliquely by having attorney William Rollins summoned to the posh Andover, Mass. (a favorite setting of Coburn's), house of wealthy and powerful Harriet and Alfred Bauer, who question him about his connection to Melody, a beautiful young hooker just found murdered in a local motel. Meanwhile, police Sgt. Sonny Dawson (""clean-shaven, lean, and economical""--like the Bauers, a paradigm of Coburn's ability to sketch a character in a few quick strokes) begins an investigation into the killing. Sonny suspects the Bauers' emotionally immature son, seen leaving the murder scene, as Melody's killer. Much of the novel's overt action consists of Sonny's interviewing the Bauers, their son, Rollins, and Melody's two ex-roommates--one a lesbian; the other a slinky neurotic Sonny takes to bed--for leads, hoping to pin the killing on the Bauer boy. But Coburn's real aim here, and the novel's real action, lies in revelation of character. As if peeling layers of an onion, Coburn unveils slowly, through flashbacks and snippets of dialogue, that Sonny, the Bauers, and Rollins had all used--and slept with--Melody. Sonny used her as an object for his altruism, hoping to save her from her prostitute's life; the others, as a sexual plaything. When Melody's real killer--not Bauer, Jr.--is finally revealed, his identity is surprising but his motive is not: he's just one more face in the corrupt gallery that inhabits this dark, moody tale. An accomplished portrait of a small town and its people; but distractingly arty and coy in its circular narrative, and too-too glum.