Chloe Newcomb, former New Yorker, liberal activist, divorcâ€še after just five months of marriage, is living some 18 years later in the mountain town of Dudley, Arizona. After being counseled by the Victim Witness Program, she's signed on part-time with that organization, supposedly to offer support and counseling to victims of violence and their families. It's wearing work. There is, for instance, the 2:23 A.M. phone call from Chloe's colleague Bobble Jean Loper, who drives the two of them to ""biblical-looking"" Sulpher Springs Valley, where it looks as if Leroy Harris has shot himself in the head with his Winchester .22. In one of those contrived coincidences that are intended to pass for real life, Chloe recognizes the dead man as a long-ago lover from New York. She keeps this information from the police, however, partly because she's sure the man didn't kill himself, and she takes on herself the task of finding out who did. Among the major players are: Didi, the dead man's 13-year-old daughter; his ex-wife Roxanne; his mother Mary; his ex-lover Starry Noel; Detective Kyle Barnett, Bobbie's brother; and the mysterious Doc, who claims to be a p.i. Harris's murder seems to be connected to the years-ago accidental killing of a young policeman, also a relative of two major characters. Thornton's debut reads like an early draft still lacking its cohering subject or theme: All those characters seem like rambling asides rather than illuminations of . . . what? The dead man? When you find out whodunit (a solution that seems to arrive from another novel), you may not care.