At their best moments, Adams's spare, uneven, Depression-era mysteries featuring Carl Wilcox (The Ditched Blonde, 1995, etc.) are oddly reminiscent of Simenon's darkest Maigret books: the small-town ugliness, the sexual tension behind genteel facades, the bleakness and irony. This time Wilcox--ex-con, sign-painter, sometime lawman--is hired as ""temporary town cop"" for grim little Mustard, So. Dakota, where the previous cop, Lou Dupree, has just died, messily, of ""over exposure to an ax."" There's no shortage of suspects, Dupree having been a nasty bully whose enemies included a bitter ex-wife and an estranged son. He was also a compulsive womanizer who went after the wives of all the town leaders--as well as single gals like schoolteacher Yvette Hamsun (a secretive free spirit with whom Wilcox, himself quite a rover, has a brief dalliance). Despite an abrupt, unsatisfying windup: one of the more engaging entries in this offbeat series--with tersely credible dialogue, vivid sketches of prairie-town hypocrites, and anything-but-nostalgic period atmosphere.