A manhunt for a monster, a police procedural and a love story all wrapped up in a thriller sums up what this novel is all about. Its characters are fascinating, beginning with a serial killer who probably has murdered hundreds of women by torturing them to death in his decades-long career. More important is his rationale for doing so: putting them out of their misery (just life on this old planet, a living hell in his view). The murders were committed all over the country, but the most recent took place in the San Francisco area, where homicide detective Ellen Ridley and her partner, Sam Tyler, become the lead investigators on three related murders (and possibly five all together).
Ridley at first suspects Stephen Tregear, a highly intelligent, charming computer genius and code breaker for the Navy, as a suspect, but soon eliminates him, learning instead that it is his father who is the ogre. The two form a relationship and with his help the story moves on until father and son confront each other. It is a study really of psychological insights into each character and what motivations led them to act as they have.
Among the themes that contribute to these manifestations are growing up in an abusive home and why one family member turns out to be a brutal serial killer, while another becomes a highly educated, intelligent person with admirable values who risks his life to save those of others. The story is well-presented, and moves along at a steady pace, and the reader becomes totally absorbed in a beguiling plot.