This book was published in 2001, when people were afraid that school shootings were going to become the new paradigm. Every six months brought news of a new tragedy, or of an averted attempt, the latter becoming increasingly common as people learned to recognize danger signs. Now, three years after this story takes place, zero-tolerance laws get increasingly silly and we're beginning to worry more about the effect of school policies on our children's lives than of the distant fear that some bullet will end them.
But at the time of The Third Victim, the fear is still near and present, and the unthinkable happens when a school shooting happens in an Oregon farm town (in Tillamook country, if you're interested.) The trouble is, though the boy has confessed, there's more to the story than meets the eye - there's the possibility that he was coerced, and that a killer is loose in rural Oregon.
This is a very satisfying little thriller, including a protagonist with A Hidden Past™ that isn't nearly as bad as she thinks it is, a profiler whose dedication to his work helps him avoid the family problems he has at home, and a state investigator who is annoyed to find the local hick isn't as stupid and complacent as she was supposed to be. Gardner invests the characters with enough real personality that I am looking forward to her other books.