Malone, who created a stir a decade ago with some award-winning mystery-thrillers (Fast Love; Red Clay), returns after a long absence with this North Carolina–based thriller starring his likable previous protagonists, police chief Cuddy Mangum and his chief of homicide, Lt. Justin Savile V. They are up against a serial killer dubbed by the local press Guess Who, whose female victims are left looking like martyred saints; media attention steps up a notch when one of his victims may be world-famous Irish rock singer Mavis Mahar, in Hillston for a concert. There are myriad complications: Mavis may be having an affair with the governor of the state, whose wife Cuddy has long hankered after; a crooked attorney general promptly shows up at the scene of Mavis's apparent murder and destroys a heap of evidence. Meanwhile, the bodies—including that of a woman judge in a prominent local murder case—keep piling up, while Cuddy and Justin are running into dead ends in their search for suspects. Malone knows his turf, and his local politics are convincingly sketched in, with many welcome touches of humor. There are plenty of false moves, too, however: Justin's romance with Mavis is not convincing, and any perceptive reader will have spotted the killer long before the vaunted cops and their female FBI helpmeets do. There are also many beguiling byways of local lore, which Malone loves to lead us down, but which severely slow the narrative thrust. (Sept.)
Forecast:Malone retains a loyal fan base and Sourcebooks will be pushing hard to make this a success by reaching them plus a vast new readership. Among the publisher's initiatives are a prepub author tour through the South, New England and the West Coast and a 12-city post-pub tour, as well as 30,0000 reading group guides and bookmarks. Expect high interest and healthy sales.