Valin's eighth outing for Cincinnati private-eye Harry Stoner (Life's Work, Final Notice, etc.)--who Winds up taking the law into his own hands (unconvincingly) in this downbeat, rather monotonic tale of murder arising from homosexual, sadomasochistic compulsions. Stoner is hired to find handsome, blue-blooded, much-loved Ira Lessing--a local businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist who has mysteriously disappeared without a word to lovely wife Janey or devoted pal/partner Len Trumaine. Soon enough, Lessing turns up dead, an obvious victim of beating and torture. Then young, gay hustler Terry Carnova confesses to the murder, claiming that Lessing was a frequent customer. But, as the graphic details of Lessing's secret "beat freak" sex-life emerge, Stoner becomes convinced that another, more powerful hustler--psycho Tom Chard--was involved in the killing. And, despite escalating cover-up attempts by police, the Lessing family, and murderous Chard, Stoner--without much credible motivation--obsessively exposes every nuance of the Lessing/Carnova/Chard triangle. . .and sees that justice is done. As always, Valin sketches in troubled characters and sociocultural vignettes with quiet, somber shrewdness. The plot here, however, is thin, psychologically labored, and essentially familiar (from Joseph Hansen et al.), with no substantial revelations in the book's second half. More important, Stoner lacks the life-sized credibility and workaday charm he has had before, making this one of the least distinctive entries in a thoughtful but uneven series.