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Low-key double homicide (rape-murders) in a small Montana town, told against a backdrop of legal prostitution. This is the fourth of Guthrie's small-scale detective novels featuring sheriff Chick Charleston and his young deputy Jason Beard. (Guthrie is, of course, best known for large-scale Western historicals such as The Big Sky.) When a prostitute from Madame Simone's is found strangled and raped, Charleston assigns Beard to the case, and Beard goes to Madame Simone's blushing-pink, gilded whorehouse to interview her. He finds that the working girls are not old-fashioned sluts but rather well-mannered young ladies engaged to be married or housewives earning extra money. Madame Simone pours sweetness and light all over the more unsavory side of her house's commodity. Then a 16-year-old schoolgirl with a fantastic future as a classical soprano is also found strangled and raped. The investigation of the second murder seems tied in with the first, and the two lawmen strain to find overlapping or matching clues to the two deaths. This part of their probe takes place outside the whorehouse ambience, especially when the coroner pronounces the second victim a virgin. Of the suspects of the first murder, the most obvious one--even to the lawmen--turns out to be the right one, while the second murder is found to have no tie at all with the first. When its murderer is unmasked, the reader remains underwhelmed. Despite the small-town, just-folks atmosphere of the cast, and the originality and spiciness of Madame Simone's business as a background, this is a foggy, de-energized affair, unredeemed by the heroes' game of identifying poetry quotations. Much too modest.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1985
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin