Texas missing-persons specialist Dan Roman makes a nice recovery from last year's glum The Burned Woman in tracking wealthy Phillip Arganian's headstrong kid sister, who left home 12 years ago. The first few steps are easy, as Dan traces Loretta Arganian, a.k.a. Nancy Taylor, to Las Vegas and California, linking her along the way with abusive businessman John Sackett, lesbian artist Lacy Wynters, B-film director Spencer Osgood, and saloonkeeper Joe Lightfoot. But with the news of Osgood's death, the trail peters out, and Dan's left dodging threats from thugs who warn him off the case, fighting off the determined advances of his client's wife, and trying to patch up his health (flu) and his marriage to his free-spirited young wife Susie. And when he picks up the trail again, Nancy Taylor's company gets rougher--Tennessee Viet vet Richard Scott, pome producer Sammy McBain, white-slaver Buster Statler, and elderly lecher Sylvester Ramsey. By the time Dan arrives at a rendezvous with Nancy and realizes that he's seen her before, the atmosphere has gotten as thick and foul as in The Big Sleep, and though Mathis' denouement is a little too extended and emphatic, the smell of mortality will give you the shivers. Tight plotting and a creeping sense of doom make Dan's usual tiresome domestic problems worthwhile.