The primal passions erupting in a small New York town depicted here by two-time Edgar winner Klavan (Animal Hour, 1993) gather with the force of a brush fire sweeping through dry grass. They are fueled by rebellion against the corrupt sheriff, Cyrus Doolittle. Doolittle handpicks local pols for top slots. He influences development. He won't talk to the local press except through press releases. He is opposed only by a plain middle-aged journalist, Sally Dawes, bureau chief of the Daily Champion, who has been Doolittle's nemesis for two decades ever since he killed his best friend and benefited from the murder of a seven-year-old girl. When the body of a drug-dabbling real estate lawyer floats up in the Hudson, Sally and her green new reporter, the patrician Henry Merriwether, begin to dig for fresh dirt. They also begin an affair, which threatens not only Henry's marriage (to a black woman) but also Sally's pristine reputation. Meanwhile, the aptly named Ernie Rumplemeyer, Sally's most zealous newsie, manages to get an interview with Doolittle's teenaged daughter--who has been confined to a mental institution (presided over by a doctor in the palm of Doolittle's hand) after threatening to expose Big Daddy's role in the killing of her punk boyfriend. What elevates Corruption above formula suspense is Klavan's ability to get into the heads of diverse characters, ranging from the crude Doolittle (given to such thoughts as ``I'll squeeze his balls till his eyes fucking explode'') to the idealistic Merriwether. Doolittle's thuggish undersheriff from the Bronx, Benoit, comes across as an almost cartoonish embodiment of venality and violence, but others, particularly Rumplemeyer, evoke pity and terror. A suspenseful, gritty look at what crawls under the apparently innocent surface of a small American town.