Ten stories that yaw wildly in quality of conception, though the last of them goes far to compensate for the whole. The fictionally exhausted tones of jes' plain folks dominate handfuls of this volume (""Mama looks real good in this one, if you think how soon afterward her tumor showed up""), but more wearing are the conventionalized, as-if-made-for-TV banalities of the drama in a large number of the pieces. In ""Cooper Loftus,"" an escaped con gets harbored by a brother/sister farm couple who've come to respect him; in ""Clearance,"" a man with marriage trouble goes camping alone up in the mountains and is sole witness to the crash of a light plane; ""Great Blue"" is mawkish slush about a boy's grandfather who is about to die of cancer; and in the title story, a good sheriff covers up a murder in order to protect his own sister. A staginess of conflict is present, too, in ""The Last Photograph of Lyle Pettibone,"" a self-consciously researched tale of labor wars in Montana in 1917 whose writerly skills don't give buoyance enough to outweigh its conceptual platitudes; and the same is true, though to a lesser degree, of ""V-E Day,"" where careful verisimilitude effectively captures the ""real"" details of May 1945 but can't outwit the maudlin whole (a dead GI is mourned by his stolidly moral mother who at first resents the grief of an unknown girlfriend who for a time, it turns out, carried his baby). Something else happens, though, in ""The Oriental Limited,"" the story of a sister who goes searching for her two brothers who have, apparently, been lost in Glacier Park in 1924. Nothing in the drama here is either tendentious or pretentious; period authenticity brilliantly (and gracefully) informs the whole; and both psychology and symbol are convincingly alive. Degrees of commonplace stuff except for the fine and rare last piece, which is exceptional indeed.