It's 1957 as Mark Stoddard, 15, tells his story of growing up lonely in Bob White, Oklahoma. Recently orphaned by an accident that killed his parents, Mark lives with dog Bopeep and taciturn brother Jess, a deputy sheriff with little time for him but plenty for the girls he brings home at night. Meanwhile, Mark's best friend is Ferret, son of Reverend and Mrs. Brubacher, who are hosts for the summer to T.J. Gatlin, a pretty, tough 14-year-old cousin whose parents are divorcing. Mark also has an enemy: moonshiner Lafe Packard, a vicious old man whose son, arrested by Jess, has died in jail, leaving Packard promising a bloody revenge. Mark has dedicated the summer to finding Packard's still, hidden in the forbidden woods of Bottomlands. So far he's had no success, but there's another bizarre element in Mark's God-fearing town: a tall, oddly dressed, long-haired blond stranger whom Mark christens Tarzan. The townspeople call him a variety of unflattering names, but he saves Mark's life in a close encounter with Packard. Later, Mark finds Tarzan dying in his Bottomlands tent, refusing to name his killer. Mark is sure it's Packard, but events finally bring him to recognize other, less obvious villains in his straitlaced town, even as his feelings for T.J. lose their panicky edge. Too many long excursions into the woods and a plethora of hand-to-hand battles don't enhance a well-written story that's awash with gun lore but also with tenderness and insight. A modestly engrossing, creditable debut.