Regular readers of thrillers and mysteries can get hardened as to what really unsettles us. After all, we tell ourselves, it's just a story.

But Richard Chizmar's latest novel is inspired by real events in his childhood. It's a memoir of sorts, but with fictional touches and reconstructed dialogue. Illustrated with actual crime scene photos, he tells the story of a boogeyman who terrorized his hometown of Edgewood, Md., in the late 1980s.

A much younger Chizmar has just graduated from college and has gone home to plan a wedding with his fiancée. He hopes to keep up with his writing while he's home, but his literary attention is disrupted after the bodies of several girls are found, mutilated with the signature of a madman.

His quiet town starts curfews and neighborhood patrols while police try to piece together the grisly puzzle.

Chizmar and a journalist friend get way too wrapped up in trying to solve the case themselves, finding circumstantial evidence to expose the killer. But their efforts fall short and the killings remain unsolved.

Fast forward about 30 years, and Chizmar gets a call from his reporter friend. The case unwinds to an unbelievable yet undeniable conclusion, one that will shock readers. It seemed Chizmar and his friend had looked at all the wrong people.

True crime meets thriller fiction, and it's an effective and well-told look behind the scenes of a town in terror — from someone who lived through it.

Ginny Greene is a Star Tribune copy editor.

Chasing the Boogeyman

By Richard Chizmar. (Gallery Books, 316 pages, $28.)