This year's winner of ``St. Martin's Malice Domestic contest for a traditional mystery'': a tale of cat-stealing, cattle- rustling, housing-development finagling, and toxic-waste dumping- -all of which get wrapped up in murder, beginning with the ambush- killing of Hampstead, Kansas, police chief Dan Wren. Wren's bride of six weeks, San Francisco cop Susan Donovan, holds grief at bay while assuming Dan's job and concentrating on finding his murderer. Then, Lucille, a local reporter-friend of Dan's, disappears, and eager to find her, Susan tracks her to Kansas City, where she discovers her strangled body under a hotel bed. Did the two murders have anything to do with violent Vic Pollack and the disappearance of his wife Emma Lou? There's another murder, as well as several wrong directions taken, before Susan pieces together the complicated reasons why Dan and the others died and, finally, before she settles down to mourn. Strong plotting and a contemporary, vulnerable heroine manage to overcome some rather mundane writing--and Susan, along with deputies Osey and Holmes and dispatcher Hazel, could form a strong nucleus for a series. A writer to watch.