Less distinctive and compelling than Fackler's taut debut, Arson (1984), this downbeat, small-town mystery features Texas newspaperman Frank James, a narrator-hero of the medium-boiled, moody sort. Here, Frank visits the dour town of Holler, where his one-time girlfriend Arly Walbridge has just recently committed suicide--or so goes the official story. Frank suspects murder, of course, convinced that Arly (who was pregnant) wasn't the kind to kill herself. Whodunit, then? Was it her current beau, a nasty ex, or the local sheriff who'd been sexually abusing her for years? What about a jealous rival or the swinish wife-beater next door? Frank, while falling in love with a beauty named Baxter. sleuths insistently--only to find himself shot at, beaten up, jailed, on the run. (The James M. Cain influence, so strong in Arson, flares briefly here.) But eventually he comes up with the over-contrived solution--which features a heavily ironic, somewhat annoying twist. Only half-satisfying, then, but a sturdy enough entry in the gloomy, grim corrupt-small-town genre.