By Tom De Haven
Updated April 19, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Reading Cold Shoulder is the torture equivalent of sitting through a sixth-grade musicale: Your eyesight begins to glaze, your mind wanders, you… But no, that’s enough. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be cruel. I’m sure Lynda La Plante didn’t set out to write a novel so unrelievedly dull. She just did.

But what’s mystifying is how the same author who created Prime Suspect, the great BBC cop series, could write a police procedural as counterfeit as this one. In a prologue set in 1989, we’re introduced to Lorraine Page, an alcoholic lieutenant on the Pasadena homicide squad. One evening, Lorraine, drunk, shoots a teenager when she mistakes his Walkman for a 9 mm pistol. Bounced off the force, she becomes unable to reverse the downward spiral of her life. Her husband divorces her and wins custody of the children, and she winds up working on the streets as a prostitute. Then she gets picked up by a serial killer on the prowl and narrowly escapes death by claw hammer.

Yes, of course, Lorraine is recruited by her nemeses in the police department to help them crack the case, and sure enough, she does one heck of a bang-up job, discovering evidence galore and eavesdropping like Nancy Drew. Then, persuading the Pasadena cops to buy her a $2,000 Armani suit to wear over her hidden microphone, Lorraine finally entraps the Hammer Killer in a climactic scene that bristles with all the excitement and suspense of a congressional filibuster at four in the morning.

The good news is that after 415 pages, the novel finally does end. The bad news is that La Plante, in the last chapter, hints strongly that there’ll be a sequel.