A strong mystery debut for poet Hugo--and for narrator-cop Al Barnes, a 17-year Seattle policeman who has opted for the quiet life as a deputy sheriff in Sanders County, Montana. All of a sudden, however, things aren't so quiet: the accountant from the local mill is axe-murdered on a fishing trip, soon followed by the axe-murder of the mill manager. And Al himself quickly tracks down the homicidal maniac--a beautiful 6'6"" woman who hates men and is responsible for the first death. . . but not the second (she's got an alibi)! So, clearly, someone is trying to pass off the death of mill manager Robin Tingley as one of the maniac's series--and Al thinks he's found the motive: lingering revenge stemming from a murder case some years back, when high-schooler Robin testified against one of his classmates. So it's off to Oregon to interview all those old classmates (a divertingly sleazy crowd) and to focus in on Robin's estranged (and strange) wife. Further murders ensue, assorted sexual secrets are revealed-and the real (fairly guessable) motive is effectively obscured by the red herrings until the very, very end: a Christie-ish series of twists. Al can get a bit tiresome as a narrator, what with his crusty sexiness and his tight-lipped sentimentality (""I bawled like a baby for no one in particular and for all of us""); and the seamy convolutions here often go beyond the plausible. But most of this is straight, sharp, and nasty--a promising first case in a hard-boiled but relatively un-clichÃ‰d mode.