Thirty-something Harper Cole makes a comfortable living trading commodities from his isolated Mississippi home, but it is his second, less lucrative job that offers the more interesting perquisites: Harper is a systems operator of an exclusive online sex forum, EROS (Erotic Realtime On-line Stimulation), whose members pay hundreds of dollars a month to engage in anonymous sex chat in a hyper-private environment. As a sysop Harper can cruise the hundreds of discussions within EROS, his presence in allegedly private chat rooms undetected by the participants, and he can take part in discussions himself under assumed identities. It is an avocation his wife Drewe--a beautiful and highly intelligent obstetrician--has become uncomfortable with in recent months.
As it happens, there is much to be uncomfortable about. When author Karen Wheat, an EROS client with whom Harper is more than passably familiar, is found beheaded, Harper contacts the authorities: a number of EROS clients have gone missing, and he thinks he knows who's behind their disappearances. But Harper's noble attempt to stop a serial killer's grotesque butcheries lands him and his family in peril.
Greg Iles's Mortal Fear is not a perfect book. There are some loose threads left dangling in the narrative (particularly the "Eleanor Rigby" side story), and Harper is made on p. 439 to consider briefly an action entirely unworthy of his character. Some of the middle chapters, too, are rather slow going. But the book builds to a breakneck pace, so that in its final 200 pages you will forgive the story its flaws, cursing the interruptions of impertinent employers and offspring while you neglect your responsibilities and read Iles's exciting conclusion.