Billheimer’s latest takes up right where Highway Robbery (2000) left off. Still working on a reconciliation with ex-wife Judith, California highway engineer Owen Allison flies home to cope with the latest family emergency: His mother’s been diagnosed with cancer and won’t consent to surgery or chemotherapy. Meantime, another environmental crusader—this time, his aunt Lizzie—takes up arms against another despoiler of the West Virginia landscape—the Mountain View Development Corporation—which has lopped off half of Dismal Mountain to build a still-vacant shopping mall, and now threatens to fill in Doubtful Hollow with the remains of said mountain. When dump-truck driver Sam Mattingly meets his maker on his first run into the hollow, Lizzie is right at Sheriff Thad Reader’s doorstep eager to make a confession as full of holes as a revenue agent running from a moonshiner. Owen’s brief attempt to see what’s really being dumped in the hollow lands him in St. Vincent’s Hospital with assorted bruises and fractures, and coincidentally brings him face-to-face with Kate O’Malley, the latest of his former girlfriends to cross his path. But Owen’s dalliance is different this time, as he revisits the person he was and the choices he made in the company of the woman who left him to become Sister Mary Perpetua.
There’s a little too much recycling here, but, still, Billheimer has hit a rich enough vein to mine for quite a while as he continues to explore the delicate interaction between progress and preservation in rural West Virginia.