Smoke and mirrors . . . There's a ghoulish killer at work in T. Jefferson Parker's The Blue Hour (6 hours), narrated by Richard McGonagle. His victims, all beautiful young women, disappear from the upscale shopping malls of sunny Newport Beach; their purses are found on blood-soaked earth, but their bodies are gone. Tim Hess, a recently retired, time-toughened police detective, is brought back in to work the case with young, ambitious Merci Rayborn, his equal in tough if not in time. Parker's characters have more substance than many in this genre, even the weird, convicted Romanian rapist who's been chemically castrated. This creepy oddball has a vague resemblance to the composite Hess and Rayborn have come up with but, with a righteous neighborhood mob picketing his home, he has an airtight alibi or does he? It's a taut, fraught tale, with an offbeat romantic subtext that adds interest.

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