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Crescent Blues Book ViewsBantam, paperback, $5.99. ISBN: 0-553-58426-X

Cop Joe Bailey used to be a professional magician and escapologist. He gave up that career to join the Atlanta PD as its one-man bunko squad -- exposing fraudulent spiritualists and the like. Complicating his life are his responsibilities as a single parent to his young daughter Nikki and a past liaison with Suzanne, the only spiritualist whose claims he never disproved.

Book: Johansen, Deadly visions


Now Atlanta is being rocked by a series of bizarre murders of prominent citizens, each with a different modus operandi -- unusual for a serial career. Nevertheless, each killing shares enough in common with the rest that appear to be the work of a single perpetrator. Most importantly, before they died, mysterious voices tormented all the victims.

A local lawmaker brings in Monica Gaines, host of a hugely popular psychic TV show, to assist the investigation. In turn, the police draft Joe, both to keep an eye on her and to help out as he can. Initially, Monica's seeming abilities impress Joe mightily. Her possible genuineness gets a further boost when she becomes the victim of an apparent spontaneous combustion -- an event recorded by her hotel's security video. Only slowly does Joe start to realize that there is much more at work here than psychic forces and a serial killer.

Meanwhile, the espionage agencies of two different nations pursue their own covert agenda…

Often clumsily written, with a ludicrous plot and, at best, tepid characterization, Deadly Visions remains, in a strange way, rather a delight to read. It does what it's paid to do: keep the pages turning. It reminds me strongly of the kind of the (now scarce) mid-list, mass-market paperback pulp fiction widely published thirty years ago -- a rattling yarn that transcends all its flaws to offer thoroughly enjoyable, if strictly temporary, entertainment. As such, in its unpretentious way, Deadly Visions shines as a better book than most of the ostentatiously published thriller hardbacks I read recently -- the ones marketed in the book-trade category "Bestseller" (whatever their eventual sales) with their embossed-print dust jackets and their screamingly huge author names and their expensively purchased cover quotes.

As an additional attraction, the author clearly knows his stuff when it comes to professional magic and fraudulent mediumship. Lengthy explanations of the attainment of seemingly impossible effects occasionally hijack the plot. In theory these info dumps should be infuriating distractions from the main thrust of the story, but in fact they prove fascinating in themselves.

Johansen may not soon be knocking at the doors of those who judge the various mystery genre awards, but with Deadly Visions he shows himself to be a fine practitioner of his less glamorous though nevertheless -- in this reviewer's opinion -- extremely estimable craft.

John Grant

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