An honorable failure in which the author's forensic expertise, plain-speaking, and love of Vermont don't quite compensate for a plot that falls apart three quarters of the way through. Brattleboro's Lt. Joe Gunther (Borderlines; Open Season) must decide whether all the clues leading to alcoholic cop John Woll as the murderer of Johnny-come-lately Wall Street investor Charlie Jardine are real or a setup--and if he didn't kill him, who did? To complicate matters, there's an information leak in the police department; the media is making a three-ring circus of the case; and several more are killed before Gunther can check out their ties to Jardine, whose chief mourner seems to be Woll's wife. Shoot- outs, secret meetings, and a police stakeout in the high school come into play before Gunther, several steps behind the reader, can lock up the case. The most vivid writing details the collapse of a heart wall during emergency bullet-removal, and Mayor's strength remains his lucid explanations of high-tech forensics. But neither can carry a story with an all-too-identifiable villain and flimsy clues. A miss, then, but still an author to be reckoned with.