When Nita Estevez paid her cousin a thousand bucks to smuggle her across the border into the States and find her work in the Garden Grove garment factory in a back area of Orange County, she was hoping for a better life. Six months later she’s dead—beaten, throttled, raped, with nipple bitten off, in a crime scene so grim that forensic specialist Joe Sanders turns pasty and starts to sweat, and his partner Smokey Brandon wants the killer bad because she feels, “at times . . . disgust just spills over.” As more bodies surface, each a new Juan Doe with forged visa and work papers, Joe suffers a major heart attack, and his son David, a student at UC Irvine, confides in Smokey that his roommate Greg Cheng has an evil finger in many vicious enterprises, including staffing the garment factory, disrupting a computer business, and turning pretty little illegals into prostitute/slaves. With her lover/partner in ICU, it falls to Smokey to ease David’s guilt at ratting out a fellow student, track down Greg’s strong-arms, sort through the mounting pile of anonymous bodies, and, ultimately, put a name to Nita’s killer.
Painfully unsentimental, with every bruise, emotional as well as physical, described with ice-cold candor. Count on it: If she went mano à mano with Kay Scarpetta, Smokey (Carcass Trade, 1994, etc.) would win the bloody scalpel award.