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Onyx reviews: Pacific Heights by Paul Harper

A therapist is faced with an ethical dilemma. Two of her female patients report having affairs with men who seem to have the uncanny ability of getting inside their heads and reading their innermost desires. This creates an immediate strong bond, but the women grow increasingly uncomfortable and violated. The therapist comes to the conclusion that the two women are involved with the same man and wonders if somehow her records are the source of this man's inside information.

She confides in a friend who puts her in touch with Martin Fane, who was forcibly retired from the intelligence division of the San Francisco police department four years ago. She's uneasy about divulging confidential information about her clients to a stranger, but she has nowhere else to turn without revealing the breech to the very people who trust her.

Fane is the archetypal resourceful former spook who now passes the time by getting involved in situations just like this. He still has all of his contacts in the intelligence community and can bring them into play at a moment's notice without any of the limitations of his former job. What started out as favors for friends after his involuntary retirement has turned into a full-time occupation that is completely off the books.

Pacific Heights feels like the first in what could be a series of fast-paced thrillers from Harper, the pen name of Texas author David Lindsey. Lindsey's earlier books, many of the police procedurals and crime novels, were set in Houston or the Texas hill country. Relocating to California, Lindsey has elected to adopt a pseudonym, perhaps wishing to set this new book (and possible series) apart from his earlier work. Though he has worked in the thriller realm before, this book feels different from the previous books, primarily in its relentless pacing.

Fane, adopting a false identity, contacts the clients independently, extracting from them all of the pertinent details about their mutual lover. One of them is the trophy wife of a wealthy industrialist, which makes Fane wonder about this mysterious man's ultimate goal though, for the time being, the man seems content to play his sexual control mind games, which call to mind Lindsey's earlier bestseller, Mercy. When Kane finally identifies the man as Ryan Kroll, a former black ops interrogation specialist, the book's urgency kicks into high gear.

The novel is told from multiple points of view, including those of Kroll and his female targets, and introduces interesting members of Fane's team, including a lovely ex-Colombian police officer with whom Fane has a complicated relationship. It turns into a cat-and-mouse game between Fane's team and Kroll, who suspects that his twisted plan is beginning to unravel. It is filled with the usual sorts of hijinx involving high tech gadgets and surveillance, none of which break new ground, nor do they stretch the bounds of credibility.

One of the book's strengths is the fact that the women are not entirely victims. They have strengths that come into play as the novel approaches its climax. Harper has also taken his new setting to heart, embracing the foggy, twisted streets of San Francisco. Its main shortcomings are the fact that Kroll's goal remains murky and Fane's pursuit of him lacks in dramatic tension because everything he attempts goes off without a hitch. Still, the novel is an exciting thriller that could represent the second act for an author who has only occasionally received the attention he deserves.

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