As Seattle shamus Thomas Black (Yellow Dog Party, 1991, etc.) lies in a coma waiting for his body and memory to start working again, he flashes back to the bizarre case that left him so broken: getting hired, on the recommendation of Thomas's sleazy fellow- professional Snake Slezak, by much-married Roxanne Lake and her young houseguest Jerome Johnson to tail Philip Bacon, who's been following newly freed ex-con Billy Battle, Jerome's foster brother- -who's already being tailed by Snake. Billy's long history of violence (dead cats, arson, kidnapping, assault, possible homicide) makes it practically certain that he'll lash out again (at Jerome? at Walter Clark, the elderly neighbor who testified against Billy when he went after Jerome with a knife? at Philip, whose testimony helped put Billy away?). True to form, more violence erupts--but this time, it sends Thomas back seven years to the murder of Roxanne's wealthy fourth husband weeks after they pledged their troth forever. Are the two teen runaways doing life for the killing really innocent? How many of the truckload of crimes he's being tabbed for did Billy actually commit? And what will Thomas's long- term girlfriend think of the way he's hassling her new fiancÇ Philip? Not even a hair-raising climax in a mountain cabin, with the few remaining suspects dodging each others' bullets and accusations, will provide all the answers to this impossibly dense case. Emerson's biggest, darkest novel yet, a clangorous three- alarmer that'll leave you wound tighter than Billy Battle.