Frank Devlin, Author . Putnam $23.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-15223-8

Devlin introduces two intriguing, love-starved female characters—one a cop, the other a serial killer's wife—in this taut, stylishly written crime drama set in San Francisco. The wife is Helen, a bored-in-her-marriage, strikingly beautiful adulteress who lures single men into sexual liaisons, knowing full well that her husband, Jimmy, will kill her conquests. In pursuit of the killing team is Det. Rose Burke, a similarly complex woman, frustrated by her inattentive husband, unsettled by her pregnancy, still troubled by the death of her former partner. She's also a crafty, highly instinctual investigator who eventually keys in on tiny details in the string of murders and begins the arduous task of rooting out the killer. Devlin, pseudonym for novelist Tim Farrington (The Monk Downstairs ), casts neither woman in a particularly sympathetic light, yet they are fascinating and somewhat disquieting to watch in action. Both are drawn in fine, telling detail; Helen's crushing depression and tormented background and Burke's ambivalence toward career, marriage and domesticity are especially well rendered. The plot's tidy, convenient finale disappoints, but Devlin's fresh approach to the genre makes him a writer to watch in his new fictional persona. (Aug.)

Forecast: Fans of Farrington's quirky romances may not make the leap to alter ego Devlin's quirky crime fiction, but female thriller readers will appreciate Devlin's insight into the female psyche.