Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski are, arguably, the two best female investigators in current fiction. Van Gieson's Neil Hamel--tough, unsentimental--on her third case (Raptor, North of the Border) is clearly angling to round out the triumvirate. When Neil drives her too-drunk friend Lonnie home from a party, she accepts a bed for the night and discovers later that Lonnie's skipped out. Then Lonnie is found dead in a cave, and, though everyone screams suicide, Neil's not so sure. Sleuthing her way through the spiritual environs of Dolendo and Sante Fe and the crasser materialism of Albuquerque, Neil uncovers plausible suspects: Rick, Lonnie's love obsession; Marci, Rick's posh new love; mob-connected Jorge Mondragon; New Age pinup girl Ci, and the imperfectly married Malones, all meddlesome friends of Lonnie; and Dolby, the teen-age neighbor with a crush and then some on Lonnie. As the tangled relationships unravel, Neil, too, is endangered. Tart dissection of trendy art colonies, New Age glitz, romantic woes and throes, plus lyrical descriptions of the landscape--all make this a standout. And Neil may actually be more interesting than Kinsey and as staunch as VA.--but with a better love-life.