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The sprawling cityscape of Omaha, Neb., and the continuing search for a cure for AIDS form the background for Diana Kirk's fast paced, hard-boiled electronically published novel, A Caduceus Is for Killing.

Dorlynd University Hospital Chief Resident Andrea Pearson discovers the gruesomely mutilated and tortured body of her department chief, Dr. Milton Grafton on a bad Monday morning. Grafton, a brilliant medical researcher close to discovering a cure for AIDS, might have been a saint in the eyes of the afflicted, but colleagues and associates viewed him much differently.

The unenviable task of sorting out the long list of possible suspects falls to Omaha detective sergeant Gary Krastowitcz. After twenty years on the Omaha police force following service in Vietnam, Krastowitcz has seen just about everything, but the sexually mutilated corpse sickens even him. Tacked to his bulletin board at the station are photos of five other men, killed in various ways, but all showing the same mutilation.

Opinionated, stubborn, prejudiced and an all round male chauvinist pig, Krastowitcz isn't your normal hero. Krastowitcz does have his virtues. He's hardworking and brave, and when confronted by just the right person, shows a surprising ability to learn. But if you're offended by anti-gay sentiments or grisly descriptions of violent death, you probably will want to give Krastowitcz and A Caduceus Is for Killing a wide berth.

Considering the nature of her work and her personal history, Pearson seems an odd match for Krastowitcz. Divorced and haunted by the death of her child, Pearson pursued her medical degree, not allowing any man to come between her and her dreams of the faculty position almost within her grasp. Afflicted with severe asthma, Pearson depends on her inhaler to keep her alive.

Krastowitcz's loudly expressed opinions about everything, especially "women libbers," offend Pearson, but his sense of responsibility calls to her. In spite of herself, Pearson finds herself liking him and depending on him for comfort when the bodies pile up at the university. Together Krastowitcz and Pearson follow the trail of blood-soaked evidence to confront a mass murderer.

Kirk writes well and keeps the plot moving like a bullet train. The novel will fool you because there is more happening than you realize. But Kirk is fair -- all the clues are there, if you can find them.

Suzanne Frisbee

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