Again, as in his 1985 debut (From a High Place), Mathis proves to be stronger on atmosphere and character than plotting--with much of the modest momentum here coming from the somber yet vigorous narration of Texas private-eye Dan Roman, 37, who's a bit less morosely poetic this time. Hired to locate business-exec Sandra Conrad, the married granddaughter of local super-tycoon Macomber Beechum, Dan follows Sandra's trail from Midway City (where her philandering husband isn't worried about her disappearance) to a commune in the backwoods run by Sandra's old flame. But the missing woman is no longer there; in fact, she was last seen at the home of her eccentric Uncle Jonas, an edgy hermit who put her on a bus back to Midway City. Case dosed? So it seems--except for the fact that two murdered bodies (Sandra's husband, their Hispanic maid) soon turn up. . .while Sandra remains missing, eventually presumed dead. Who's lying? Uncle Jonas--who was enraged about a family-business plan that would rob him of his beloved timberland? Or the folks at the commune? What about Sandra's amoral twin sisters (who try to seduce Dan), not to mention her flaky brother (who scorns her famed business expertise)? And how can Dan concentrate on the Sandra mystery when he's going crazy with lust for Jonas' youngish wife Myna? Eventually, after surviving a series of violent run-ins with crazy, doomed Jonas, Dan does shove aside the rather cumbersome red herrings here, allowing the true murder-motive--a grim, far-fetched (but already trendy) one--to emerge. Still, until the creaky windup: sturdy, quietly intelligent detective fare--with convincing Texas locales, offbeat (yet non-cartoonish) people, and nice dust-ups of dour humor in the well-turned dialogue.