Ex-cop Harold Shilling is almost a caricature of the taciturn, angst-ridden, nouveau-hard-boiled shamus--alcoholic, impotent, suicidal over an unfaithful wife. But Bercovici (Wolftrap, 1979) keeps this short California/Nevada mystery so lean, fast, and under-written that neither Shilling's familiarity nor the thinness of the plot is much of a problem. Shilling is initially hired by Lake Tahoe casino-owner Carl Charnock to locate his young wife Caroline: she disappeared soon after the casino was closed down because of an alleged skimming operation. But moments after Shilling finds Caroline--in San Francisco--she jumps (?) to her death; Charnock, who's sure that it was murder, now wants Shilling to Fred the killer. So Shilling heads for L.A. (Caroline's home-town) to fred the answers in some dirty, blackmail-worthy secrets. And tagging along with him throughout is appealingly bedraggled Fay--a sometime (reluctant) prostitute who clings to Shilling despite his impotence, his surliness, and his misery. Topnotch repartee, so-so mystery, scratchily ingratiating characters: a cool, smart, painless one-sitting read from a savvy, promising writer.