The beginning of P.T. Deutermann's The Cat Dancers is one of the most gripping openers in recent memory. Suspended from a thin nylon rope several hundred feet above the ground, a daredevil photographer swings toward the face of a cliff, intent on taking face-to-face pictures of a North Carolina mountain lion in its lair. For folks with a fear of heights or wild animals, this is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Meanwhile, a couple of bungling slackers are in the process of ripping off a convenience store when things start to go to hell in a handbasket: the South Asian store owner has a gun, which he starts firing enthusiastically (if not accurately), and in seconds the gas pumps are hit, exploding into a fireball of epic proportions. Several innocents are killed, but the two moronic crooks escape briefly. Later that evening, the cops take them down, but in the excitement, their Miranda rights are neglected, and a liberal judge cuts them loose without charges. In a matter of days, vigilante justice is applied: one of the two is electrocuted in a homemade electric chair, and the police receive an e-mailed video of the execution. The voiceover says, simply: That's one. Intricately, these disparate storylines are woven together, offering one of the most original and intense mysteries of the year.

A lifelong mystery reader who was weaned on the Hardy Boys, globetrotter Bruce Tierney writes (mostly) from Prince Edward Island.

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