cover image BLIND ALLEY


Iris Johansen, . . Bantam, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-553-80341-9

Forensic sculptor Eve Duncan returns in this far-fetched but expertly plotted, eminently entertaining novel. When detective Joe Quinn is called to investigate the murder of a young woman whose skin has been peeled away from her skull, he presses the overloaded Eve to work her grisly magic. Eve is shocked to realize that the victim bears an uncanny resemblance to Jane MacGuire, the headstrong 17-year-old she and Joe have adopted, and who was already menaced by another serial killer in 1999's The Killing Game . Then a suspicious inspector from Scotland Yard, Mark Trevor, arrives with the grim news that a string of women with similar features have been murdered in Italy, England and Spain. A serial killer he calls Aldo has been working his way around the globe, butchering women who look like Cira, a beautiful young actress from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum (which was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius), whom he holds responsible for his father's death (such is the logic of the insane). Since Jane looks like Cira (and, incidentally, has been having nightmares about being her and trying to escape the volcano's destruction) she will be his prey—or bait. Johansen fans will recall that Eve lost her biological daughter, Bonnie, to a serial killer, so her desire to bring Aldo to justice is tied up with her still-sharp grief. Meanwhile, Jane behaves like a typical teenager, living in denial of her own mortality while feeling intoxicated by the sexy air of peril that now surrounds her. Aldo never comes fully into focus as a villain, but that doesn't matter much, since one of the real engines of fear in the novel is Jane's burgeoning sexuality. (Sept.)