Val McDermid, . . St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-312-29089-4

British author McDermid brings back DCI Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Dr. Tony Hill from The Mermaids Singing (1995) and The Wire in the Blood (1997) and thrusts them into a psychologically chilling and multifaceted thriller. Jordan goes undercover in Germany as part of a dangerous operation to capture Tadeusz Radecki, an international smuggler of drugs and illegal aliens. Meanwhile, her contact in Berlin, Criminal Intelligence Officer Petra Becker, is helping her Internet lover, Dutch Brigadier Marijke van Hasselt, on a grisly case whose victims, psychological researchers, are sexually tortured and murdered. Jordan suggests that Dr. Hill work with them in Berlin. The suspense builds as scenes alternate among the two English crime fighters, Becker, van Hasselt, Radecki and his henchman, Darko Krasic, and the anonymous serial killer, whose grisly tactics echo Nazi psychological experiments. McDermid gives depth and individuality to all seven characters and each city. With consummate skill and pacing, she braids together the complex story lines through surprising revelations, heartstopping suspense and cruel double-crosses. The two major plots don't mesh, but they crisscross, creating even more tension. McDermid's writing and her understanding of the criminal mind get better with each novel. With its European locales, depiction of Nazi mind experiments and hints at another Jordan/Hill novel, this may well be her breakout book. She certainly deserves it. (Sept. 30)

Forecast:The release this summer of the two previous novels featuring Jordan and Hill in mass-market, in conjunction with a seven-city author tour, should make McDermid's name a lot better known to American readers. She has won Anthony and Gold Dagger awards and been a finalist for an Edgar.