(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

BURN is the ninth entry in John Lutz’ Fred Carver series. As such, it exhibits both exquisite deftness at creating suspense and signs of literary fatigue.

The book’s premise is hauntingly contemporary. Carver, the hobbled, cane-wielding Florida P.I., is hired by a recently widowed contractor who has been accused of stalking a woman he claims never to have met. Carver trusts his client enough to take the case, but has lingering doubts. As a result, he spends as much time investigation his client as he does his client’s accuser, a seductive freelance writer. With both accuser and accused seeming highly believable, the plot offers immediate suspense that is sustained throughout the book.

Likewise, some of Lutz’s characters are masterfully drawn, and the staple philosophical issues of the hardboiled genre—truth and justice—are explored with considerable subtlety. In addition, the book’s prose is admirably lean and instantly negotiable.

Yet there are aspects of this book that may well disturb readers. For one thing, Carver’s competence as a detective, in this book, is almost nil—with tragic results. Then, too, Carver’s usual supporting cast of characters—good cop, lousy cop, and exquisite live-in lover—seem to be losing some of their steam. Indeed, while a series such as this one thrives on continuity, Lutz appears at times to be repeating himself.

For loyal Carver fans, these flaws may be irrelevant. Those new to Carver probably should begin with one of the earlier books in the series.