To police investigators, the significance of a criminal's first victim is clear: The first victim is generally the one that is handled carelessly. It's only later the criminal mind thinks to start making better preparations, thinks to plan more carefully. When the crime being investigated involves the death and possible murder of illegal immigrants, that sloppy criminal mentality may be the only thing working in Lou Boldt's favor.

Readers of Ridley Pearson's previous thrillers will be familiar with the adventures of Boldt, John LaMoia, Daphne Matthews, and others associated with the Seattle Police Department. Pearson, the winner of the first Raymond Chandler Fulbright fellowship at Oxford University, does not let down the pace in this intricately plotted suspense thriller that teams up Boldt with an uncomfortable mix of television news reporters and Immigration and Naturalization Service officers all with different agendas.

Pearson's trademark cameo characters add spice and verisimilitude to the story line: Chinese matriarch Mama Lu who, in the world of jazz, is a ballad, not bebop ; Dr. Virginia Ammond, the Seattle Aquarium's expert on the scales of the Snake River Coho; Doc Dixon, the medical examiner who, digging in a grave for evidence, complains, It's not in the job description! Once again, Pearson combines violent action with careful attention to detail and fascinating glimpses of cutting-edge forensic science to craft a story that moves from the dark territory of dockside gangs and casual violence to the domain of corruption in high places and the murderous significance of the first victim. Robert C. Jones is a reviewer in Warrensburg, Missouri.

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