Sitka, Alaska, shamus Cecil Younger's willing to do an awful lot of things for money, but killing a man isn't one of them. So, naturally, he's reluctant to take a retainer from crazy old William Flynn, whose reaction to being accused of shooting his neighbor, abusive mother Angela Ramirez, is to babble a confession and then offer Cecil a down payment of $2,000 for finding and killing Angela's estranged husband, Simon Delaney. Cecil doesn't condone murder, of course, not even when he's committing it, but he hasn't worked for three months, and $2,000 is $2,000. Besides, Flynn rambles so much--he keeps going on about covering up for his brother Tommy, who's been dead eight years, and about another killing that took place nearly eighty years ago--that Cecil's hoping to earn his fee without actually having to puli the trigger. The search for Delaney will take him as far afield as the wilds of far-off Dutch Harbor, where the police welcome him with suspiciously open arms, and back in time to 1919 Centralia, Washington, where a post-Armistice labor rally sparked the violence that may have addled Flynn's brain for good. The highlight is Cecil's fumbling, funny attempt to hitchhike the last miles to Centralia with his retarded friend Toddy, but the whole book is really a road story in disguise. In fact, Straley's fourth (The Music of What Happens, 1996, etc.) shows his Shandyesque love of loose ends getting the better of his logic: The mystery-mongering is as febrile as old man Flynn.