Carsten Stroud, . . Delacorte, $24.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33578-2

Stroud reaches into his deep well of talent and comes up with this ferociously driven, intricately woven thriller about a New York businessman trying to fight his way out of a government frame. At center stage is Jack Vermillion, the workaholic owner of Black Water Systems, a successful shipping company. His only disappointment in life is his son, Danny, a thief and drug addict now in federal prison. In an attempt to cut a better deal for Danny, Vermillion rats out a client, former army colonel and sharpshooter Earl Pike, who wants to ship guns to Mexico. When federal officials move in to seize the shipment, several of them get shot to death by a long-range sniper. It's Vermillion, however, not Pike, who is arrested for the slaughter, ostensibly because an ambitious federal prosecutor sees an opportunity to confiscate everything he owns under asset forfeiture laws. Meanwhile, as Vermillion tries to figure out what happened, New York police detective Casey Spandau is equally frustrated. She's investigating a double murder, but can't get any evidence on the man she knows committed it: Earl Pike. Stroud (Close Pursuit; Sniper's Moon) masterfully handles the converging story lines, each drawing upon their own vivid scenery and characters so fresh they snap. Throughout, Stroud never missteps in either tone or pacing; as usual, his blunt portrayal of law enforcement as a deeply troubled institution is highly convincing—he notes that "the law is a machine for processing and canning garbage meat." As for the writing, it's brawny and vigorous and seasoned with dark humor—much supplied by Vermillion's business partner, the cerebral, wisecracking Creek Johnson. Stroud provides a brutally frank glimpse into government deceit, personal ambition and criminal motivation. (Aug. 15)

Forecast:This excellent thriller—rapturously blurbed by Tony Hillerman and Jonathan Kellerman, among others—has the potential to be Stroud's breakout book, but sales success will depend primarily on word-of-mouth publicity.