Thomas Harris' Red Dragon raised the psycho-crime novel to a more compelling level through the compassionate-yet-grisly portrait of a homicidal maniac; here, in a less horrific yet equally involving thriller, classy veteran Lieberman likewise triumphs through character. True, he just sketches in the psycho-killer--who every year, around April or May, murders an innocent N.Y.C. bystander by dropping a cinder-block off a roof in the theater district. And the cop on the case, Francis Mooney, is fleshed out with conventional, grumpy charm: he's 60-ish, overweight, a failure, a horseplayer. But, in an offbeat inspiration, Lieberman has made a funny, dreadful, memorably pathetic character out of the primary witness in the case: Charley Watford--pathological liar, Demerol addict, ""congenital fugitive,"" terrified paranoiac, and cunning impersonator. How does Watford's path cross that of the killer? Well, in escaping from his annual cinder-block homicide in 1979, the mystery-assassin injures his leg--and winds up in the hospital, under a fake name. His roommate? Watford, of course--who has spent about half of his youngish life in hospitals: knowledgeably faking symptoms, loading up with Demerol, posing alternately as patient, M.D., pharmacist. So, when the frustrated, put-upon Mooney eventually discovers the hospital clue (two years after the fact), the trail leads to Charley Watford--not the most reliable of witnesses (especially since he's terrified of the police). And though Watford does eventually supply Mooney with an identification of the killer, fingering a respectable, middle-aged art-dealer, no one believes him. . . except stubborn, instinctive Mooney. Lieberman (Crawlspace, City of the Dead) keeps everything in perfect, teasing balance here: the grim annual killings; the dead-end police work; Mooney's reluctant romance with widow Fritzi Baumholz, saloon-owner/track maven (who forces him to lose 70 lbs.); and, above all, the bizarre compulsions and wayward achievements of haunted, hopeless Watford, whose sad, oddly natural fate comes with surprising emotional clout. Only at the very end is there a slight, bewildering let-down. Everywhere else, without sensationalism or exploitation or clichÃ‰s, this crime-thriller offers a unique blend of horror, humor, and compassion: chilling yet endearing, sly yet elegantly simple psycho-suspense.