Impeccably paced, beautifully observed and moving with a crescendo of suspense, this is another thoughtful and exciting Seattle-based police thriller from Pearson (The Pied Piper), whose skill at maintaining a balance between the narrative thrust of his plot and the personal lives of his characters makes him a top-notch practitioner of the genre. We learn just enough about Lt. Lou Boldt's current situation to realize that his recent promotion has had mixed benefits: he misses street work and bends the rules to get out from behind his desk. We also discover that his wife Liz's apparent remission from cancer has created some domestic tension--she credits her good results to faith; he can't quite make the same leap--and that financial pressure caused by the loss of her income has made him think about leaving the police force. We acquire this information gradually, as naturally as we would in real life, while being swept along through a heartbreaking narrative that involves illegal Chinese immigrant women being smuggled into Seattle in cargo containers. The story becomes a crusade for two sharp and ambitious female journalists--local TV superstar Stevie McNeal and Melissa Chow, the young Chinese woman McNeal's father adopted, and whom Stevie calls ""Little Sister."" Lieutenant Boldt and his unusually well-defined team become involved when Melissa goes underground as an illegal and then disappears. Bodies of several Chinese women are found in a public graveyard, the ""first victims"" of a particularly vicious gang of smugglers. As one of Boldt's colleagues explains to McNeal, ""The first victim is generally the one that is handled carelessly."" Like all of Pearson's insights into the minds of criminals, cops and citizens, this one is strong, subtle and full of resonance. Atmospheric descriptions of Seattle and some fascinating forensic evidence add texture to a riveting story. $250,000 ad/promo. (July) FYI: The mass market edition of The Pied Piper, released simultaneously, will carry a teaser chapter from The First Victim.