Roustabouts and romantics in the Tulsa oilfields.
Throw in a serial killer and things start happening in Rainwater, Oklahoma, circa 1927. First, a flashback to a dreadful scene years ago: teenaged Justine, poor and friendless, gives birth to a child by the Judge, a venomous old man who wants an heir. Not that he’s satisfied with the result: the infant boy has a bright red birthmark on his face. The Judge throws the girl out on the street and raises the child to be as spiteful and strange as he is. In due time, Justine becomes the local madam (under guise of running the hotel), eventually achieving respectability, but she loses track of her woman-despising son. Enter Jilly, Justine’s country-bred niece, who’s come to help run the hotel. Pretty, young Jilly attracts a lot of unwanted attention from the roustabouts, and it’s not long before her husky friend Thad Taylor steps in to rescue her. Aw, shucks—why him? Why can’t he let handsome, debonair Hunter Westfall, oil entrepreneur, do the rescuing? But Hunter is smitten with lovely Laura Hopper, young widow and mother of an adorable tot. All the good men of Rainwater rally round when a dog drags in a severed arm from a female body also sans head and breasts. The killer tried to cover his crime by setting fire to the house, so it takes a while to identify the victim—but a distinctive earring amid the ashes belonged to Carsie, a woman of easy virtue with whom Hunter once had a fling. Other clues lead out of town, to the nasty young Lloyd Madison, whose bright red birthmark identifies him as the son of Justine, now on her deathbed. Yes, her secret shame and sorrow will be exorcised, and the killer will be stalked by Okalahoma lawman and sharpshooter Jelly Bryce.
Old-fashioned mellerdrama with nonstop action, true lovers, and sneering villains—all in this third hardcover from veteran romancer Garlock (The Edge of Town, not reviewed).