Sam McCain’s chances with Iowa City nurse Linda Dennehy, who slow-dances with him at Jack and Jean Coyle’s, are put on hold when the corpse of teen princess Sara Griffin crashes the party. Sam’s longtime adversary Cliffie Sykes, Black River Falls’s redneck police chief, is hot to arrest high-school dropout David Egan for the murder, and even Sam, who’s represented the asthmatic heartbreaker before, is a prize bum who’s kept both nice barber’s daughter Molly Blessing and not-so-nice stablehand Rita Scully on a string before he sniffed Sara. But Sam’s shocked when David takes his James Dean impersonation too far and hot-rods himself into the bottom of the river. Cliffie, more certain than ever that he finally suspected the right guy, closes the case, leaving Sam, offered a $100 fee to prove David’s innocence by the two maiden aunts who’d raised him and encouraged by the news that his brake line had been cut (only after the accident, scoffs Cliffie), to find out just who did bash in Sara Griffin’s head and deposit her budding body in the Coyle gazebo—that is, if he can tear himself away from the tentative but responsive embraces of Linda Dennehy.
Despite the ducktails and drag races, Sam’s fifth nostalgic case (Save the Last Dance for Me, Feb. 2002, etc.) evokes summer 1961 less by specific period details than by the sad, pervasive sweetness—a yearning for a safe small-town world (“You ever wish we were kids again?” “All the time”) that never was.