As plainspoken as the bullet that rips through his gut in the book's first minute and as direct as his ""buck naked"" put-down of teasing Amy Hallow, Millie's boy is the bastard son of the lately murdered town slut -- forced to strike out on his own bearing the unlikely name of Tit Smith. At sixteen, Tit is more man than boy, and though his journey to his mother's hometown of Ticonderoga is nominally a search for identity, Tit no sooner tracks down his father than he's planning to kill him for any number of good reasons. Peck, author of The Day No Pigs Would Die, knows the 19th century Vermont/upper New York State country well and populates it with a sturdy set of characters -- among them mule-driving, doctoring six-footer Fern Bodeen (who unlike some other frontier Amazons is never made stereotypically asexual). One sometimes suspects that Peck's respect for the integrity of his characters does not always stop him from playing fast and loose with the reader. First we're manipulated into suspecting Fern of murder for no apparent reason except that the accusation delivers a chapter-ending jolt; later we're lulled with a homey ending that brings Sheriff Gus from Tit's hometown to pair off with Fern and suggests that Amy will be able to combine medical school with marriage to Tit. Young Tit cuts a wide swath -- getting himself ""shot, froze to death, run down by coydogs, and drownded in the lake"" early on and eventually turning to patricide; savvy readers will latch on to the vernacular humor and roll with the punches.