First-rate debut thriller involving forensic psychology by practicing psychiatrist Ablow (The Strange Case of Dr. Kappler: The Doctor Who Became a Killer, 1994). Ablow's protagonist, forensic psychologist Frank Clevenger, makes for a distinctly unusual hero: He repeatedly falls off the wagon, goes from one billowing, self-defeating obsession to the next, buys coke on borrowed money, buys sex at nude dance bars, bottomlessly gulps scotch, gambles, drives drunk, digs S&M, can't pay his bills, solicits his mother for drug money, and more. The upside is that Clevenger's terrific insight into abnormal behavior may in fact be just because he's so twisted himself, a result, it's suggested, of his being the product of an alcoholic, suicidal, abusive father and a promiscuous mother. Now Frank is called in by Chief Emma Hancock to help send up the killer who murdered a young woman and cut her breasts off. A homeless nut wants to confess, but Frank, after interviewing him, says no. When her own niece becomes the madman's second victim, Emma gives Frank free rein to chase the perp and throws in three grams of coke to keep him stable. Meanwhile, Frank has huge fights with his live-in mate, Kathy, an ob-gyn who delivers babies all day and keeps leaving Frank because he won't quit the coke. Following leads to his favorite girlie bar, where he sits in ""Perverts' Row"" and feeds money to naked dancers, Frank finds himself attracted to Rachel, a star-crossed lady who analyzes him more keenly than he can himself. Ablow's main subject here is psychology, not melodrama, and, yes, he's written a cautionary tale. But, like The Lost Weekend, it ends with the hero still self-deluded and in denial--with Clevenger thinking, against the evidence, that he's on the road to recovery. A novel for the self-destructive in all of us.