Patterson's thrillers (Virgin, 1980; Black Market, 1986) have plummeted in quality since his promising debut in The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)--with this latest being the sorriest yet: a clanky and witless policer about a criminal mastermind and the cop sworn to take him down. Aside from watching sympathetic homicide dick John ("Stef") Stefanovich comeing to terms with a wheelchair-bound life--legacy of a shotgun blast to the back by drug-and-gun-running archfiend Alexandre St.-Germain--the major interest here lies in marvelling at the author's trashing of fiction convention. The whopper comes early: although St.-Germain is explicity described as being machine-gunned to death by three vigilante cops in a swank brothel (". . .a submachine gun blast nearly ripped off the head of Alexandre St.-Germain"; "The mobster's head and most of his neck had been savaged by the machine-gun volley. The body looked desecrated. . ."), before you know it this latter-day Moriarty is stepping unscathed out of an airplane. What gives? Authorial cheating, that's what--thinly glossed over with some mumbling later on about a "body double." Not that St.-Germain's ersatz death generated much suspense anyway, with subsequent action focusing on, among other items, the gory killings of assorted mob bosses by one of the vigilante cops, and Stef's viewing of pornographic tapes confiscated from that brothel. But readers generous enough to plod on will get to read about the newly Lazarus-ized St.-Germain's crass efforts to revitalize and consolidate the world's crime syndicates ("the Midnight Club"), Stef's predictable tumble for a sexy true-crime writer, and how (isn't one miracle enough for Patterson?) at book's end Stef walks again and gets to embrace a rogue cop who's murdered several people. Ironsides with a badge and a lobotomy.