Alex Kava, . . Mira, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-55166-717-1

The fourth novel in the Maggie O'Dell series (A Perfect Evil; Split Second; Soul Catcher) features a serial killer with a taste for grisly butchery. At the outset of a long overdue vacation, FBI special agent O'Dell agrees to investigate a simple missing person case for her good friend, psychologist Gwen Patterson. Coincidentally, in the quiet Connecticut small town where Gwen's patient was last seen, a barrel containing a dead body is discovered in an abandoned rock quarry. Maggie offers her services to the local sheriff because she needs to rule out the possibility that the victim is Gwen's patient. Professor Adam Bonzado, a forensic anthropologist and friend of the sheriff, is already at work; a dozen or more 55-gallon barrels have surfaced. As they're pried open, releasing the telltale nauseating stench, an odd assortment of cannibalized victims come to light, including a female breast cancer survivor—her breast implants cut out and removed—and an embalmed corpse, brain missing. Chapters narrated from the point of view of Gwen's missing patient (she's alive but in dire straits) and the paranoid killer alternate with accounts of the tedious work of the coroner and the anthropologist. As Maggie processes the information they provide, she also ministers to elderly but endearing Luc Racine, who lives near the quarry. His Jack Russell terrier keeps bringing him human bones, but since Luc is fighting Alzheimer's he may or may not be a viable witness. Kava's plotting is capable, but there's only a hint of romance and little humor to provide relief from the lashings of gore. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.)