cover image Desert Kill

Desert Kill

Philip Gerard. William Morrow & Company, $23 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12641-4

Gerard's third novel (after the praised Hatteras Light and Cape Fear Rising ), is a first-rate psycho-thriller that promises to be his commercial breakthrough. Dexterously crafted, this macabre story of the hunt for a serial killer in Phoenix is a triumph of pacing and sense of place. Paul Pope, the wise but aging state chief of homicide, enlists the aid of nephew Roy, a professor of literature, to solve a series of ghoulish murders of young women. The case becomes a race against time, because it's feared that the killer is holding captive a topless dancer and student of Roy's named Cindy Callison. Meanwhile, echoes from the past relate the grisly murders to the Popes' clouded family history. Interspersed with cryptic fragments of the phantom's demented internal ravings, the narrative is a gripping read despite some hackneyed plot elements. Powerful psychological undercurrents course through and impel Gerard's wonderfully fleshed-out characters: Roy's wife, Eileen, silently suffering the anguish of a brutal rape resulting in abortion; Roy, haunted by his ill-considered rendezvous with Cindy at the bar where she worked; Jane, psychologist and ceramist, carrying an old torch for Paul; and earthy, Mexican Esmeralda, ex-prostitute and now Paul's loyal, long-suffering housekeeper. Bidding fair to joining the small band of psycho-thriller writers (Harris, Lindsey, Pearson among them) whose insight into the human soul equals their skill at suspense, Gerard is clearly a writer to watch. (July)