The author, a prolific writer of sci-fi, with his second entry in the detective genre (The Quallsford Inheritance, 1986), featuring sleuth J. Pletcher, who works for Lambert and Associates, an investigative agency headed by high-powered young Raina Lambert. Raina has taken on a job in Sparta, Ohio, where a series of nonlethal slashings on the local college campus seems to have climaxed in the murder of teen-aged computer freak Arthur Keeton. Pletcher, from his base at the college's Hance Hall and working with low-keyed Police Chief Spragg, starts talking to the locals. Arthur, it appears, had no friends--only hanger-on and adoring fan Evan Murray. Then, checking out old-timers--like gossipy Nellie Yates, clothier-philanthropist Glenn Arland, factory-owner Carlton Charmer, and the blustery Mayor--Pletcher becomes convinced, on very tenuous evidence, that drugs are somehow tied to the murder. The killing of Evan Murray strengthens his theory--and leads to the setting of a cumbersome trap, with help from the feisty Miss Yates, that nails down the murderer. A nicely evocative picture of small-town U.S.A. is the biggest asset here. Overall, the rambling, dullish plot, mostly uninteresting characters, and a detective whose persona remains stubbornly unfocused and tepid make the story less than compelling.