A year after his lawyer wife was killed in a car accident, a burglary in his house makes New Orleans film reviewer Mike Barnett wonder whether her death was really accidental. Five years before she died, Joan Barnett was hired by black developer Tom Grieve to sue real-estate mogul Sheldon Retif for withholding the right to build Thomas Jefferson Magnet High School on the site that Retif sold Grieve. Losing the case on a shaky verdict by distinguished Judge Leon Delacroix, Joan argued the appeal all the way to a procedural victory in the Supreme Court-- but too late to change the location of the school (which had already been built) or help Grieve (who died soon after). Now that the burglary has alerted Mike to Joan's missing Grieve v. Retif files, though, nagging questions return. What did Retif hope to get by building the school on a plot of land the University of New Orleans had donated to the city? Why had Delacroix ruled against Joan's client? Why has Tammy Dieter-White, Joan's old antagonist in the case, forbidden her associate Johnny Chambers, formerly of Joan's firm, to talk to Mike? And what does Joan's death have to do with the current executions of gay men throughout the city? Readers who can get past the leaden badinage of Mike and Joan in extended flashback--plus the oracular wisdom of Mike's endless film reviews, heavy with liberal uplift--will find the answers satisfyingly revealing about racial politics, big-city corruption, and the self- created mythography of the Big Easy. Though it may make you impatient with the characters--how long is it going to take Mike to realize that Joan's death was no accident?--the mystery plot lends Barton (The El Cholo Feeling Passes, 1985; Courting Pandemonium, 1986) a new momentum and a cumulative power that's surprisingly moving.