In the third outing for his southern Florida builder John Deal (Done Deal, 1993; Raw Deal, 1994), Standiford blends vivid settings, tension, and cinematic action to illuminate the internal journeys of an intriguing mix of characters. Trying to adjust to his wife Janice's emotional collapse and institutionalization, Deal is unable to comfort an old friend, Barbara Cooper, whose mother is dying. After the mother's death, Deal visits Cooper and not only finds her also dead--an apparent suicide--but discovers grieving movie-star sister, Paige Nobleman, whom Cooper had never talked about. Deal's guilt leads him to enlist his tenant, retired cop Vernon Driscoll, to help find out what's going on, and, when Paige disappears, the search takes the pair to Hollywood, where Paige's beloved agent, Marvin Mahler, is involved in a multimillion-dollar deal to provide customized porn movies for the new capitalist market in China. If there's a weakness here, it's that the puzzle is easy to figure out--and yet doesn't quite make sense. And Deal, who is no detective, functions mainly as a sort of emotional barometer and a lightning rod for trouble, while his buddy Driscoll--an irreverent, no-nonsense loner--does most of the heavy lifting. But the world of Deal's latest adventure is so well imagined that most readers will keep turning pages. Especially memorable: a repulsive, Dickensian ex-coroner who lives with his cats in a crumbling mansion; and a hulking, efficient killer who's so introspective that he becomes nearly as sympathetic as Deal and Driscoll. Standiford's Miami and his quirky characters wouldn't be out of place on a shelf with Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, while his choreographed action scenes recall John D. MacDonald.