Fans of psychologist Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis will satisfy their need for thrills with Jonathan Kellerman's latest, Monster. Never before have the combined talents of this pair, such opposites in many ways, yet complementary where it counts, been so carefully drawn by the author.

At the novel's start, authorities are baffled by a series of horrific murders. While police try to uncover a link among the slain, the death toll mounts quickly amid a flood of dead-end leads, investigative miscues, and bureaucratic footdragging. Milo's dogged probing and ability to turn up the tiny, pivotal clue is sorely tested by the elusiveness of the killer. Although there is no obvious common thread connecting the victims except the method of their deaths, Alex puts together a unifying personality profile, identifying them as well-liked loners capable of social interaction but uneasy about real intimacy.

A break in the case emerges when Ardis Monster Peake, a bona fide madman who killed his mother and an entire family of do-gooders, suddenly begins stream-of-consciousness rants that contain genuine clues. Kellerman keeps the suspense taut as Peake's bizarre ramblings lead them deeper into the inner lives of the victims. Kellerman's knack for creating short, terrifying scenes is accomplished here with all the skill of a seasoned veteran novelist.

Even though all evidence points to Peake, Alex and Milo conclude that the answer to this puzzle goes beyond the usual follow-the-dots murder case. What stumps the team is how the killer could know so much about their next move, as if he were reading their minds.

With Monster, the reader follows clues, both big and small, until the book cranks up for its big finish. Peake is one of Kellerman's most fully realized crazies, a character of unbounded lunacy and diminished humanity. Though its occasional nod to old genre formula sometimes gets in the way, Monster, a furiously paced mindbender, contains enough mystery to hold readers spellbound. Robert Fleming is a writer in New York City.

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