A complex and disturbing vision of the world as a place filled with danger powers this fascinating novel, another blistering drama of family relations from one of our most productive and passionately serious writers. An expansion of one of Busch's finest stories (``Ralph the Duck''), this is a sorrowful examination of the experiences and innermost feelings of a bereaved father who seeks catharsis for his own loss in joining the hunt for a missing 14-year-old girl. He is Jack, a middle-aged security policeman and part-time student at an upstate New York college where his duties include rescuing stranded drivers, breaking up fights, and patrolling the campus for confused and disoriented kids who need his protection. Busch plots the novel deftly. A note found in library book may contain a threat on the life of a visiting Vice President. A series of encounters with an arrogant drug dealer leads to a savage, potentially fatal beating. Throughout, there pulses a continual hum of approaching danger, a sense that the surface of things barely conceals a roiling chaos (``You're a small person, a little girl person, and you go outside of your house but where it's supposed to be safe. . . . And people come and they hunt you''). Busch contrives several vivid and haunting confrontation scenes--between Jack and his wife Fanny, suffering together in a truce, which is all that's left to their marriage since the death of their infant daughter; Jack and Mrs. Tanner, the missing girl's stoical mother, herself soon to be another of this story's many victims; and Jack's climactic capture and interrogation of the girl's murderer. It all works superbly as a conventional thriller, though the story's most effective as a harrowing expression of the fragility of our defenses against loss and death, and a moving characterization of its memorable protagonist, a decent man who struggles against powerful odds to remain one. An impressive demonstration of Busch's continuing mastery of realistic narrative.