By People Staff
April 28, 2003 12:00 PM

By T. Jefferson Parker

California noir moves to San Diego in this tough and taut novel about a detective with more ties to a murder victim than the Golden State has freeways. Det. Tom McMichael is looking into the slaying of ex-San Diego mayor Pete Braga, a powerful tuna fisherman turned tycoon who is bludgeoned in his home. In 1952 Braga killed McMichael’s grandfather and got off on a self-defense claim. Shortly after, Braga’s son Victor was beaten so badly that now, at 63, he still has the mind of a 10-year-old; suspicion fell on the detective’s father, though nothing was proved. And McMichael’s first love was Braga’s granddaughter, though he also has an affair with Braga’s enigmatic nurse despite his partner’s warning that “nobody with bullet holes in her neck is straight up.”

The plot is a cat’s cradle that includes a gruesome smuggling operation, a crooked cop, a missing prostitute and a reconsidered will, but the masterly Parker never lets the strands tangle. (Hyperion, $23.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Pursue it hotly