The corporate downscaler as serial killer--an appealing conceit given long, lumpy, lifeless treatment in the pseudonymous Barrow's debut. Michael Woodrow is a flawlessly handsome management consultant based in Chicago who jets all over the country telling ailing businesses how to cut their costs by firing people. Michael also does some more literal cutting himself, savagely murdering a series of 40-ish women who come on to him in Florida, in Michigan, in San Antonio. Michael's obviously never been able to come to terms with his father's murder of his faithless wife--a crime for which Norman Woodrow, who promised Michael he wouldn't abandon him, did 18 years in stir. Now Michael's being tracked on behalf of his Florida victim by ""researcher"" Victor Flare, who's such a bulldog that he keeps on coming even when the victim's mother pulls him off the case. Norman's new neighbor, Lizabeth Seaver, a schoolteacher of 35, is clearly cast as Michael's good angel, but will Michael be able to seize the redemption she offers before cheesy, bullying Flare closes in on him? It's a good question, but Barrow drains the juice from his story by reducing his weakly imagined supporting cast to walk-ons, simplifying angelic Lizabeth and demonic Flare within an inch of their lives, and cocooning Michael and his father in reams of dim, gratuitous flashbacks filling in every conceivable blank in their motivation (there's even time for Norman's retrospective salute to Butt Lancaster's '50s films). Barrow eschews the usual pulpish pleasures of the psycho-killer genre for psychological depth; but instead of coming off as complex, tortured souls, Michael and his father end up, via all this background info, as tiresome veterans condemned to swapping the same old war stories forever. Barrow's quite original keynote for this unthrilling thriller is tristesse. But readers who breathe all this dead air are likely to be the saddest folks of all.