Carl Wilcox, the likable young vagabond who occasionally plays sheriff in his Depression-era South Dakota town (The Naked Liar, etc.), now leaves home to be an itinerant sign-painter--only to stumble right into another mystery. Outside the burg of Toqueville, Carl--in his Model T--comes upon a wrecked Dodge. Inside, unhurt, is four-year-old Alma Ellison. But also inside, dead, are Alma's 21-year-old mother Winnie and two joy-riding teen-agers--plus Winnie's latest beau, wild Cody Jerome, in seriously injured condition. Was the car wreck an accident? Or was the Dodge forced off the road by a sadistic brawler from a neighboring town? And is there some connection between the smash-up and the recent ""suicide"" of flighty Winnie's boozy, miserable husband? The town judge and the town banker--longtime rivals for local power--each hire Carl to solve different parts of the mystery. And the trail leads to dangerous confrontations in Minneapolis, an elusive inheritance. . .and a tragic kidnapping by one of the cornered culprits. The revelations here don't quite deserve the rich, atmospheric buildup that Adams gives them. But Carl's relationships with the townsfolk--especially sad little Alma and a tartly virginal sweetheart (more innocent than Carl's usual lady-friends)--are sketched in with the earthy charm and laconic gravity that make this series modestly distinctive.