Jeri Howard's chilly client Naomi Smith is willing to spend serious money to find out whether the ruined body backhoed from a vacant Oakland lot is her runaway daughter, Maureen. But once Naomi finds out that it is, she loses interest in whatever led Maureen to her secret grave, even though Maureen's own two-year- old daughter remains ominously missing. When Naomi closes ranks against her daughter's memory, along with her equally inscrutable housekeeper, Ramona Clarkwho has her own reasons for putting Maureen's memory behind herit's up to Jeri to go curb to curb among San Francisco's homeless to find out what drove Maureen from her mother's house and what it was that finally killed her. As Jeri makes the rounds of the obvious suspectsNaomi's servile, self-excusing lover; the faithless men in Maureen's life; the offbeat couple who took her in off the streetsDawson creates a wonderfully menacing sense of layer upon layer of sedimented guilt and conspiratorial secrecy. If the actual secrets don't quite live up to Dawson's portentous hints, Jeri's fifth case (Don't Turn Your Back on the Ocean, 1994, etc.) is still a bracingly heartfelt tour of the Bay Area's lowest depths, on and off the streets.