cover image Intent to Harm

Intent to Harm

Stan Washburn. Pocket Books, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-88457-4

Despite its lurid title and premise (a serial rapist terrorizing an unspecified college town), Washburn's first novel is an exceptionally thoughtful police procedural. Drawing on his experience with the Berkeley, Calif., Police Reserves from 1972 to 1978, Washburn forgoes the sensationalism of so many cop thrillers to focus tightly and in abundant detail on the grueling pavement poundings and midnight stakeouts that cops must endure to get their man. His protagonist is relatively old (31) rookie Toby Parkman, an empathetic liberal assigned to plain-clothes to catch the rapist who has savaged scores of women. Through Parkman's first-person narration, Washburn vivifies the frustration and anger that cops feel when their best efforts fail to turn up a suspect or when, later, they can't make a case against the person they know is guilty. Meanwhile, through occasional third-person narration from the point of view of women being stalked, the author makes clear, without pandering, the terror and horror of rape. Subplots involving the inept leadership of the task force's initial chief, an attack on a teenage boy and a romance between the boy's mother and Parkman's colleague add realistic texture to the tale. This is a deeply moral and unusually evocative story of men and women who, cop cliches to the contrary, have far more caring than cynicism in their hearts. (July)