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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 22, 1993|DICK RORABACK

SUMMER OF FEAR by T. Jefferson Parker (St. Martin's: $19.95; 359 pp.) When Russ Monroe sees a dead woman driving a Chrysler up Laguna Canyon he senses that something is seriously wrong. He himself had discovered the body of Amber Mae Wilson, his former lover, battered to pink sludge in her $3-million house. A surpassingly vicious killer is at large, butchering minority families, giving his beloved Orange County a "racial facial." Of all his putative victims, Amber alone does not fit the pattern. Monroe, ex-cop, journalist, author, has been chosen by the murderer as his conduit to the public.

Hideous though they are, the massacres are not Monroe's primary concern. His wife is. Isabella has brain cancer. Chemotherapy has robbed her of her lustrous hair. Steroids have bloated her body to 200 pounds. The tumor has affected her speech, rendered her legs too weak to walk. While immersed in the atrocities, even as a suspect, Monroe's real battle is with himself, and with God. The love he holds for Isabella is tested daily. His flesh conspires against him. He is consumed by rage, despair, hope, then rage again. He demands of God, "Treat her with respect."

Although there is a link between parallel stories--"Cancer is a serial killer; a serial killer is a cancer"--the romance prevails. "Summer of Fear," in the end, is not a mystery containing a love story, is it a love story surrounded by a mystery. A very good mystery. An even better love story.

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