SCORCHER by John Lutz


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Tropical Heat (1986) was a lean, life-sized, impressive debut for reluctant shamus Fred Carver, an ex-cop (Orlando, Fla.) with a limp. This time, however, things are far more melodramatic and gnarled--as Carver obsessively stalks the psycho who is randomly napalm-torching innocent people in and around Ft. Lauderdale. . .including Carver's own eight-year-old son (who was visiting Florida with Carver's ex-wife). The one piece of evidence--an abandoned car--leads straight to 20-year-old fugitive Paul Kave, schizophrenic son of a fast-food-tycoon. So Carver craftily gets himself hired by the Kave family as the private-eye who'll find Paul to protect him from police violence. This helps Carver to trace the fugitive's movements--while both girlfriend Edwina (who nearly gets torched) and ex-wife Laura urge him against blind vengeance. By the time he finds Paul, however, Kave has begun to have doubts about the youth's guilt--partly because of the suspicious behavior of other Kave family members (a terminally ill mother, a sister with a shady fianceÉ, etc.). So the finale will include a gothic revelation-stew as well as a fireball showdown. Killing off the hero's son seems a cheap, contrived way of raising the stakes here. And the plot, initially sensational, is ultimately unconvincing. Still, with steady pro narration, incisive Florida backgrounds, and occasional visceral action, this is grimly readable even when it's haplessly overwrought.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Henry Holt