Like the post office employees who’ve made the phrase “going postal” a byword for the mixture of alienating boredom and violence, Inspector Max Diamond, of the US Postal Inspection Service, never seems to have a nice day. His latest task—punctuated by perhaps too rambling a series of earlier anecdotes from his job and his family life—is to watch hour upon hour of pornographic videotapes. Most are simply tedious; a few, which combine kiddie porn with snuff-film endings, are horrifying. Even when Max reconnects with his college sweetheart Phayle Tollard, who’s visiting Palm Beach when their Yale classmate Twy Boatwright is killed in a freak encounter with a power saw, his waking nightmares of little girls being raped or maimed or killed prevent him from resuming the sexual liaison Phayle is apparently eager to pick up where they left off. As Max, mired in a grim caseload, struggles to trace the videos to their depraved source (a fraudulent postal employee’s abusive boyfriend? a local crime lord? a Shining Path guerilla?), the death of a second classmate, Twy’s law partner Jeff Grayson, raises a unique question: Will this be the first whodunit in history in which a serial killer provides the closest thing to uplifting relief?
Rosenfeld (A Cure for Gravity, 2000) doesn’t shrink from florid clichés (the crime lord’s beautiful daughter is an internist at Mercy Hospital) or kitchen-sink plotting, but he keeps things moving smartly even before the nifty twist that ties his two plots together into a neat, grisly bow.