"False Witness: a Novel" (Ballantine Books), by Andrew Grant

On her 21st birthday, Deborah Holt got an eye-popping gift — a new Mercedes — from her well-off, older boyfriend. She didn't get to enjoy it for long.

The next day her nude body, wrapped in sheets, is found at the gates of a cemetery.

In "False Witness," Andrew Grant's third crime thriller featuring police Detective Cooper Devereaux, Deborah's lurid killing sets in motion a whodunit that's given a sudden twist when a second victim's body is found. Like Deborah, she is nude, wrapped in sheets and just turned 21.

Grant's police procedural — more plodding than pulsating — unfolds against the backdrop of two subplots: Can Devereaux sort out the truth of his father's criminal history? And will the mother of his young daughter let Devereaux back in her arms despite his possibly worrisome DNA?

As in the first two Devereaux thrillers — "False Positive" and "False Friend" — the action in "False Witness" unfolds in Birmingham, Alabama, the Deep South state's most populous city and not the Birmingham in England where Grant was born and raised.

In "False Witness," Grant has a good feel for character types and certain locales in his adopted Birmingham. He also writes some fine lines, such as his description of the former steel-mill city's Sloss Furnaces: "The chimneys are still visible ... as are the tops of the rust-red silos that Devereaux used to imagine being parts of a demented giant's chemistry set."

But the narrative is mostly a standard-fare crime novel and its two miniplots about Devereaux's personal life tend to detract from the action rather than add suspense.

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