Thea Kozak is madder than hell, and you can't blame her. Before she's recovered from her husband's death in a car crash, her adopted sister, Carrie McKusick, is assaulted and killed up in Maine, where she'd gone to search for her birth parents. When Thea doesn't have quick enough answers for Detective Andre Lemieux of the Maine State Police, he provokes her by showing her horrific photos of Carrie's corpse. When she treks up to Carrie's place to clean it out and finds that Carrie had been seeing her brutish high-school boyfriend again, the boyfriend beats her up, douses her with beer, and rams her car into a tree; and when she reports back to her stiff-necked family, they close ranks against her, refusing to believe her story and refusing to authorize her request for Carrie's birth records. So Thea, haunted by a dream in which Carrie asks for vengeance, retraces her sister's steps on her own, runs an obstacle course of self-righteous adoption agency bureaucrats and antisocial social workers, and reaches a revelation every bit as nasty as the clues have predicted. Thea's inexperience, or first novelist Flora's, reduces her dialogue to a stream of tag lines (``I wanted to make love to that inscrutable, fiercely controlled trooper who hid a secret human being inside, and I was scared stiff by my feelings''). But there's enough raw pain--Thea's, Carrie's, even the rabbity birth mother's- -behind the clichÇs to propel this new series to a red-hot start.