Dave Brandstetter, death-claims investigator, is on the case when Banner Insurance receives a strange claim: Charles Westover wants to collect on the death of his daughter Serenity who, according to Westover, is one of the dead, unidentifiable bodies found in the desert, the victims of cult-leader ""Akriel"" (now on the run). But things seem fishy when Dave finds that Serenity's father is himself now missing; the suspicion is that Westover--a crooked lawyer with shady connections--is trying to collect on a phony claim. So Dave searches for Westover and/or Serenity, talks to estranged wife Anna, tracks down son Lyle (a suicidal musical genius with a speech defect), unearths Westover's longtime homosexual lover. . . while someone is apparently trying to kill him. And finally there's a wilderness showdown with psychopath Akriel himself, who (with Serenity's brainwashed support) has been behind all the evilness. A weaker plot than usual, then, for Dave--with, conversely, more emphasis on his unappealing private life as an aging homosexual: young black lover Cecil returns here, alternately coy and petulant; and there's a shrill subplot involving Dave's young ex-stepmother, who's about to marry a handsome lawyer. . . till Dave (after rejecting a seduction) exposes the lawyer's seething bisexuality. Some good, spare, evocative Hansen writing along the way--but one of the weaker entries in this uneven series.