Moody, divorced St. Louis shamus Alo Nudger (Nightlines, etc.) has another heart-stoppingly beatiful client: this time it's dreamy Helen Crane, who wants Nudger to find out what awful secret is bedeviling her pathetic boyfriend--Jake Dancer, a handsome but seedy and boozy Vietnam vet. It doesn't take Nudger long, once he starts tailing Dancer, to find out that the poor guy is being hounded, even beaten up, by some thuggish creditors. But could gambling debts be an adequate explanation for the escalating attacks on Dancer? Could Dancer's real secret be connected instead to a series of creepy mutilation-murders involving young woman? (Nudger's cop-pals fill him in on the case.) Or maybe Dancer's problem is somehow related to the lovely Helen's not-so-lovely professional life: she works for an ""escort service"" and is reluctantly thinking about moving from the paid-date division over to actual prostitution. So Nudger--though kept pretty busy just trying to protect Helen, Dancer, himself, and girlfriend Claudia--follows up both theories with dogged sleuthing. And his inquiries lead him to gothic/kinky doings at a vast St. Louis mansion. These ugly revelations (snuff-videotapes, etc.) are slightly time-worn, a bit overwrought. But even if the details of the windup are less than credible, Lutz's plotting here has a stark, unusual, genuinely disturbing curve to it--making this another Nudger-esque blend of strong action (including a guard-dog chase), lean atmosphere, and downbeat personality.