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The killers who leave a naked corpse on an Arkansas River bank in the spring of 1907 lead legendary lawman Oscar Schiller a merry chase through Indian Country and beyond, in another delightful period piece from Jones (Shadow of the Moon, 1996, etc.). Schiller (last heard from in The Search for Temperance Moon, 1991) has not gone gently into the good night of retirement, so he's quick to take an uninvited hand in the mysterious murder of Gerald Wagstaff, a prominent Fort Smith businessman. After determining that there's more to the case than Sheriff Leviticus Tapp (a Dartmouth man who bears frequent witness to the strength of his religious faith) would have the public believe, the Waspish ex-federal marshall wangles a carte blanche commission from the local US Attorney. With the help of an Osage (aptly named Joe Mountain), Schiller noses about his old stomping ground, the Oklahoma Territory, now in the early stages of a crude-oil boom. While prowling the rapidly changing frontier, he sustains a gunshot wound, but not before he learns that the dead man had masterminded a lucrative scare that involved selling bootleg drilling equipment and holding large American Express under false names. From a half-witted outlaw, Schiller gets a line on Lota Berry, Wagstaff's missing paramour, and back in Fort Smith, the dogged sleuth locates the hapless Lota's body at the bottom of a dry well. Her moonlight disinterment soon flushes out the principal plotters in a sorry tale of betrayal, coerced confessions, embezzlement, homicide, hypocrisy, and torture. At the close, the culpable pay varied prices for their crimes, and the quirky Schiller makes an effort to adapt to a city overtaken by modern conveniences--automobiles, for example, electricity, and the telephone. Entertaining fare expertly set in a turning-point of American history, from a prolific old pro whose oeuvre bears consideration as a national treasure.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt