Valin's Cincinnati-based mystery series--featuring the wise, low-key, wry voice of shamus Harry Stoner--has been among the most promising entries of the past decade. Here, however, Valin has lost some of his special tone and distinctive stance; and one hopes that Valin won't follow Robert B. Parker into the sort of decline and burnout that has accompanied the quest for a broader audience. (The publisher announces that ""we are hopeful of moving Jonathan Valin--as we have done with Robert B. Parker--out of the genre and into the mainstream."") Indeed, two Parker-esque preoccupations--put-upon prostitutes, musings on ""manhood""--dominate Stoner's sixth outing, as he's hired to locate missing all-pro footballer Billy Parks for the Cincinnati Cougars. Is Billy just playing hard-to-get during a contract renegotiation? Or is his disappearance linked to his propensity for roughing up women, to some possible drug problem? Stoner turns for intensive help to two primary sources: Billy's surly teammate Otto Bluerock; and hooker Laurel, a chum of Billy's pregnant girlfriend C. W.--who may have teamed up with a sleazy cop to entrap Billy on drug charges. And when C. W. is found horribly murdered, the search for Billy escalates--leading from a shady gym (heavy on steroids) to a rather excessive showdown/bloodbath. Throughout, in fact, there's a slightly overwrought quality here that's new--and unwelcome--in Valin's work: posturing, sentimental in its view of semi-noble victims Laurel, Billy, and Otto. Still, even if this is lesser Valin, short on genuine plot and unique Cincinnati flavorings, it's above-average by general standards--with crisp narration, sharp-edged portraits (except for elusive Billy), and fine-tuned dialogue.