Into the Fire

David Wiltse, Author Putnam Publishing Group $22.95 (317p) ISBN 978-0-399-13969-7
Wiltse's newest thriller offers genuinely visceral horrors, but its talented author blessedly spares us most of the sickening details. Returning hero John Becker (last seen in The Edge of Sleep), the FBI's expert on serial killers, is trying to quit the Bureau and escape his wrenching, uncanny ability to get into the mind of the monsters he hunts. But coded messages that arrive in the mail draw him into an interview at a Tennessee prison with a punk called Swann, who claims that his old cellmate, Cooper, a half-witted giant recently released from prison, has killed two girls in an abandoned mine-killed them very slowly. Swann offers to help capture Cooper in exchange for his own release. By the time that Cooper is recaptured after a violent spree, however, Becker is convinced that he didn't slay the two girls. Meanwhile, the three converging stories of Becker, Cooper and the real killer have been joined by that of Aural McKeeson, whose saintly beauty and charisma hide an extraordinarily tough-and humorously depicted-psyche. After Aural is taken captive by the real murderer, she, Becker, a young female FBI agent and the killer confront each other in an exciting climax deep in a cave. With the exception of Becker's ability to plumb killers' minds, which has been a cliche in the serial-killer genre since Thomas Harris's 1981 Red Dragon, Wiltse's characterizations are deft, believable and often funny, adding a welcome depth to this scary and very satisfying thunderbolt of a thriller. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/03/1994
Release date: 10/01/1994
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