A horrific bombing at the Getty Museum is only the first act in Lovett's wild saga of a demented killer with a grudge against the City of Angels.
Called in from Santa Fe to assess incarcerated John Freeman Dantes, that apostle of violent protest whose career is obviously patterned on the Unabomber's, forensic profiler Dr. Sylvia Strange soon realizes that she's not going to make any fast breakthroughs her two predecessors missed. Declining to sit still for her piddling tests, Dantes alternates between proclaiming his innocence in the museum bombing—his blasts go out of their way to avoid killing people, he insists—and needling her, à la Hannibal Lecter, about the suicidal patient who just died on her watch. While Dantes spars with Dr. Strange—and with Prof. Edmond Sweetheart, the freelance psycholinguistic consultant whose great-nephew was killed at the Getty, and with everyone else who's willing to stick a head into his cage—clues throughout the city, some attached to bombs, take the investigators ever deeper into the Dantesque hell Dantes takes modern Los Angeles to be, and incidentally support his claim that he's not the bomber this time around. Borrowing freely from Jeffery Deaver and Michael Connelly, as well as Thomas Harris and Theodore Kaczynski, Lovett creates layers of menace (omnipotent prisoner Dantes, a mysterious acolyte who calls himself the Mole, the endless nightscape of tunnels beneath the city where anything could be waiting) in her most ambitious thriller yet. But as readers of Lovett (A Desperate Silence, 1998, etc.) know, that's not an entirely good thing, since her forte has always been a darkly fertile imagination untrammeled by the focus or discipline that could harness it.
Though L.A. comes off as dramatically, believably vulnerable, not even enough explosives for a shelfload of thrillers can make Dantes or Dr. Strange or any of the other people here as vivid as they're presumably meant to be.