EQUATION FOR EVIL by Philip Caputo


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Despite the recent success of Mary Willis Walker's Under the Beetle's Cellar (p. 818) and Jeffery Deaver's A Maiden's Grave (p. 965), this interminable inquest into a similar crime--a crazed gunman's assault on a busful of schoolchildren--suggests that no suspense formula is foolproof. ""This is not, repeat not, a criminal investigation,"" forensic psychiatrist Dr. Leander Heartwood tells his unwilling partner, Special Agent Gabriel Chin, of the California Department of Justice. But their assignment--to compile a ""psychological autopsy"" that will explain why Duane Boggs opened fire on a field trip to Sutter's Mill, killing 14 of 26 mostly Asian-American students--sounds just like that, especially after evidence indicates that Boggs, who seemed incapable of planning this kind of crime anyway, had help killing himself at the scene. After a survey of Boggs's few friends, a dalliance with the KKK and the White Aryan Resistance, and a brief look at Boggs's kinky kid brother Duane Tipton, Heartwood and Chin settle on Boggs's coworker Mace Weathers as his most likely accomplice. Though Weathers, a Mormon weight-lifter who lost an eye in defending his own Asian girlfriend against a bunch of skinheads, doesn't seem to fit the profile of the coolheaded bigot they're after, Heartwood and Chin battle the clich‚s--their squabbles over tuff and procedure, the frequent switches to Weathers's point of view, the reverential tone toward psychological profiling, which you'd swear had never been used by any actual or fictional detectives before--to spring a trap on Weathers, who's planning an encore with another cat's-paw. But without the uncertainty that's lost in all those closeups of Weathers, there's not much suspense, and even less originality, to their game of cat and mouse. All the size and sweep you'd expect from Caputo (Means of Escape, 1991, etc.), but hurt by his lack of familiarity with the conventions of a genre he seems to think he's invented himself.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1996
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: HarperCollins