After a three-year vacation while Haywood introduced the zany Loudermilk family (Bad News Travels Fast, 1995, etc.), his main man, L.A. shamus Aaron Gunner, is back on the job. It's not much of a job, either: a routine skip-trace on deadbeat Russell Dartmouth, who stopped paying the installments on his Best Way Electronics tab after the down payment. Gunner, no slouch as a p.i., looks Dartmouth up in the phone book, goes over to his house, and takes him down, after a brief disagreement turned physical puts him in Dartmouth's bad books forever. It seems doubly unfair, since Gunner would rather be investigating the shotgunning of his old girlfriend Nina Pearson. But there's no client in the wings, and no help from the police, who are convinced the triggerman was Nina's abusive husband Michael. Gunner, who's not so sure, goes mano mano with Michael anyway, and once the ambulance leaves the scene, the cops are ready to close the case. But Gunner is just beginning. Getting a line on the women's shelter where Nina had made friends who now look like suspects, he'll gather evidence against the lawyer who fired Nine from her job after she claimed harassment, two different women who threatened her with a gun, the new lover who was more enthusiastic about their fling than Nina was, and a photographer who shoots more than pictures--all before getting a brainwave that has him picking the killer virtually out of thin air, which is about how the killer picked Nina. Gunner (You Can Die Trying, 1993) knows everybody who's anybody, and even more people who aren't, and his tour of the battered-wives scene is the high point of this eventful but slackly told story.