McDermid (A Clean Break) enters new ground with a dark tale that is more complex, more carefully crafted and far more disturbing than her Kate Brannigan mysteries. By the time the police admit that Bradfield, a fictional city in northern England, has a serial killer, four men are already dead, each tortured in a different way and then abandoned outdoors in town. Baffled by a lack of physical evidence left by the meticulous sociopath, police bring in Tony Hill, a Home Office forensic psychologist who profiles criminals. Tony, who begins each day by ``selecting a persona,'' devours crime data with a fascination approaching admiration for the killer. The interest distracts him from obsessing over his own sexual impotence and over the ``exquisite torture'' of salacious phone calls he's been getting from a strange woman. DI Carol Jordan, a mercifully normal person who is Tony's liaison with the force, quickly grasps the profiling approach while keeping her policing instincts. Carol and Tony forge an uneasy relationship; but, as they pursue ``the Queer Killer,'' a cloddish policeman undermines them, a local reporter blows the case to get a byline and the murderer closes in on a new quarry. A warning: woven into this powerful story are journal entries in which the murder discusses torture in loving detail, an aspect that makes this graphic, psychologically terrifying tale almost as off-putting as it is impossible to put down. (Dec.) FYI: This novel won Britain's Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of 1995.