October 02, 1995 12:00 PM

by Roderick Thorp

Meet Garrett Richard Lockman, the most terrifying fictional serial killer since Dr. Hannibal Lecter last cooked favas. Lockman is the psychopathic engine that drives this curious, fictionalized take on the still unresolved Green River killings of the 1980s.

During the course of eight years, Lockman, a manipulator who plays games with all around him, goes about his grisly pleasures. A petty thief and scam artist, he is a geek unable to date or even talk to women. He’s the kind of guy who, without saying a word, can make everyone on an elevator uncomfortable. Lockman lures young prostitutes into his car, takes them to his basement and tortures them to death. He also slyly makes the authorities believe a policeman is the killer.

Veteran thriller author Thorp, who wrote Die Hard, never lets gore overwhelm the psychological terror. It is the mix of the mundane and the mad that gives River its rush. Lockman’s sometime partner in crime, for instance, is a respectable engineer at Boeing, Martin Jones. In public, Jones mows his lawn and prunes his flowers, but inside he wears women’s lingerie and hides clothing from his and Lock-man’s kills in his bathroom.

Pitted against these demons is Seattle vice detective Phil Boudreau. He suspects Lockman almost from the beginning, but Lockman remains just out of legal reach. In the end, Boudreau must settle for situational ethics rather than the courtroom. Long after the scales of justice are balanced, though, readers will remember Lockman. Open a good Chianti when you read River. (Fawcett, $22)

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