Black detective Lew Griffin skips his father's final illness (New Orleans, 1964) when he's hired to find a missing person--well-known black leader Corene Davis. Successfully finding Davis, he repeats the trick three times--searching for runaway teenager Cordelia Crayson in 1970, his friend Jimmy Smith's kid sister Cherie in 1984, and finally his own long-unseen son David in 1990. The searches are understated, variously successful, and seasoned with increasingly elegiac glimpses of Lew's erratic home life (his unlikely romance with British nurse Vicky, his repeated return to his obliging friend LaVerne); and readers waiting for first-novelist Sallis (the story collection A Few Last Words, 1970) to drop the connections among them will wait in vain. But an unexpectedly poignant sketch of the detective emerges through the apparent holes in the plot. Not so much a detective story as a story about a detective, then- -but one that exploits the conventions of the genre with quietly distinctive power. Likely target audience: people who think James Lee Burke's moody Dave Robicheaux novels are overplotted.