In The Narrows, his nifty new thriller, Michael Connelly resurrects one of his all-time sickest villains, the brilliant Bob Backus (a.k.a. the Poet), last seen staggering down a storm-drainage tunnel with a gunshot wound to his abdomen at the end of 1996's ''The Poet.'' When a corpse, mutilated beyond recognition by wild animals, was later found in the vicinity, the case against Backus was closed.
We now learn that the odious Backus made it out of the tunnel, hired a plastic surgeon to change his features, and has embarked on a new killing spree. As ''The Narrows'' begins, he has deposited 10 male bodies in the desert outside Las Vegas and sent the FBI a GPS monitor directing them to the mass grave. Rachel Walling, the beautiful agent who shot Backus in ''The Poet,'' is quickly called in to help with the case. This is all part of Backus' evil plan: As she travels across country to join the Vegas team, he tails her, getting close enough to snap photos and sniff her perfume.
Meanwhile, Terry McCaleb -- the hero of Connelly's sensational ''Blood Work'' -- has died of heart failure on his charter boat off the coast of San Diego. But his widow harbors doubts about the cause of death and asks ex-cop Harry Bosch to check into it. Soon, Bosch's investigation leads him to Backus and the corpses in the desert, and he teams up with Walling to try to track down the Poet once and for all.
A bit hammy and occasionally rushed, ''The Narrows'' doesn't rank as one of Connelly's greatest hits; it can't hold a candle to ''The Poet.'' Still, even second-rate Connelly will take you on a wild, heart-stopping ride. His heroes are haunted and driven, his villains savage and smart, and his novels filled with shocking, fascinating twists. The stuff is habit-forming.