By David Koeppel
July 30, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

When an odious art critic is killed at his Southampton, N.Y., estate, FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast discovers an unusual crime scene: a ”cloven hoof-print burned into the floor” and remnants of ”good Old Testament brimstone.” Is Satan at work — or is there a more earthbound explanation? Brimstone is a highly compelling thriller that marks the return of Pendergast and his former NYPD cop sidekick, the likable Vincent D’Agosta. A string of similarly hideous murders takes the duo from the streets of New York (”the greatest concentration of spiritual bankruptcy and evil,” believes one apocalyptic preacher) to the lush corners of Florence, Italy. While tales of the supernatural can be downright ridiculous, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child prove that the devil is indeed in the details.