Fred Carver, lame after an unfortunate on-duty shoot-out, has left the Orlando, Fla., police for a private-eye career--and his first case is the disappearance of one Willis Davis, a local real-estate salesman who seems to have committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. But Willis' girlfriend, colleague Edwina Talbot, is convinced that the suicide is a fake, that Willis has been abducted. . .or has run away. Reluctant but intrigued, Carver starts asking questions--and eventually discovers that Willis, before vanishing, had perpetrated a neat real-estate seam at the office, netting $100,000. Could this be the capital Willis needed for some larger scheme, perhaps involving drugs? Carver believes so--and the trail leads to the little swamp-town of Solarville, where the sleuth's inquiries are quickly answered by a series of lethal attacks (including one riveting knife-assault). But it won't be until Carver returns to Orlando and survives another murder attempt (death-duel in the ocean) that he figures out just what the elusive Willis has been up to--while tough/vulnerable Edwina, falling in love with Carver, finally manages to exorcise her passion for dear, deceitful Willis. The plotting here is a bit thin and slow; the moody Carver/Edwina romance verges on pretentiousness. But the Florida backgrounds are oppressively vivid, the gritty supporting cast is top-notch, and the action tidbits are compelling--making this Lutz's best work yet, clear evidence (along with the recent Nightlines) that he can go beyond the uninspired pulpiness of his standard output.