After an impressive, subtly shaded beginning (Tropical Heat), Lutz's series for lame ex-cop Fred Carver, Florida p.i., has become coarser, more melodramatic. And this fourth episode is the weakest thus far: an ordinary, violent run-in with drug-thugs and rough, ruthless feds, highly active but essentially mindless. Why would someone hire retired widower Bert Renway to impersonate a rich Fort Lauderdale businessman named Frank Wesley? That's what Renway (who's glad of the cash but curious) wants Carver to figure out. But almost immediately Carver's new client is murdered. So Carver, under pressure from the vile local cops, goes sleuthing--and promptly starts getting roughed up by two different sets of bullies. Federal drug-agents, who were using Renway as bait in a scheme to trap ""respectable"" southern drug-tycoons, want Carver to cooperate with them. So do the drug-czars, whose chief enforcer likes to cut off people's ear-lobes and keep them on a charm-bracelet. Carver, caught in between, winds up on the run, lying low, and stealthily gathering information (a huge drug-lift is imminent). . .until the predictable finale, which involves underwater derring-do, the rescue of Carver's girlfriend Edwina (in her clichâ€šd damsel-in-distress role again), and assorted vendettas. Lutz's narration this time around--heavy on sentence fragments--too often reads like hard-boiled parody. The characterization is a mix of faceless and cartoonish. And the shrill tone is compounded by a lurid, unconvincing subplot (with a conspiracy theory re the Martin Luther King assassination). In sum: lesser Lutz, though brisk and visceral enough for rough-stuff fans.