No, it’s not murder this time—just a series of violent robberies: only the first sign that master-plotter Pearson (The First Victim, 1999, etc.) has taken some of his accustomed edge off Lt. Lou Boldt’s latest case.
The Blue Flu has struck Seattle. So many of the city’s finest have called in sick to protest cutbacks on overtime that the brutal assault on Detective Maria Sanchez is not only an outrage to cops like Boldt who are still on the job; it’s another body blow to his depleted force of investigators. And when Boldt unofficially shifts over from Homicide to join his longtime colleague, Lt. Daphne Matthews, the staff psychologist who’s technically in charge of the case, his reward is a blue-painted brick through the window of his home and his own percussive waylaying by three masked men who figure to be disapproving colleagues. Sanchez, it turns out, was on the trail of a crook as nasty as he was petty—a guy who’s worked out a robbery scheme that depends on the government’s unwitting complicity. But when Boldt and Matthews lose their most promising line on the perp to an untimely demise, they find themselves surrounded by bad guys who are mad that they’re disrupting a profitable business and good guys who are mad that they’re still punching the time clock. The endless threats, which ought to keep up the tension, end up blurring the focus, and not even Pearson’s well-earned reputation for high-tech savvy (confined this time to the problem of tracing calls from cellular phones) can keep him from slipping into the hoariest clichés in the book: the personal blackmail, the kidnapped officer, the bullet-riddled showdown.
Reliable thrills from a pro, though only about half of Pearson’s usual 12 cylinders are firing this time out. (Literary Guild/Mystery Guild selection; first printing of 125,000; $300,000)