Though it's a good two hours from Minneapolis, Rutherford, Minn., doesn't lack for baseball action. In the striking opening scene of this debut mystery, for instance, James Wahler is out at home. He's been strangled, gelded, dressed in a softball uniform and a pair of old-fashioned cleats, and transported to Pioneer Park, where he's been arranged astride home plate with a baseball bat substituting for his lost manhood and a Polaroid of the crime scene helpfully pinned to his uniform chest. Though Detective Jake Hines has no more idea what the tableau means than why Wahler spent several hours after death propped up on his feet, the scene has been so deliberately set that most readers will be a lot less surprised than he is when a second victim is called out at Willow Creek Park: Louis (Frenchy) LaPlante, who's splayed up against the backstop in a similar uniform, with a similarly convenient photograph, only the postmortem mutilations being different. While they're waiting for the inevitable third out, Jake and his hard-working colleagues interview the dead men's families, chase down dozens of dead-end leads, and watch in admiration (mingled, in Jake's case, with lust) over the solid, if unspectacular, crime-scene work of attractive photographer Trudy Hanson and her gung-ho crime lab colleague Jimmy Chang. An unusually assured kickoff to Gunn's new series of procedurals. And if the murder motive is a little hoary, Jake comes up with it before you have time to get bored with an unassuming cast who could easily turn into welcome regulars.