Nothing’s what it seems in Billheimer’s tale of bank fraud, baseball and bunkum in rural West Virginia.
J. Burton Caldwell put sleepy Contrary on the map with two major accomplishments: the National Bank of Contrary, which offered mortgages at such a steep discount that its revenues reached nearly a billion dollars; and his Museum of Fakes and Frauds, featuring hoaxes like a copy of The Last Tycoon signed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. So when federal auditors discover a $750-million shortfall soon after Caldwell’s death, auctioning off the museum’s holdings seems a fitting way to recoup some of the losses. Owen Allison (Drybone Hollow, 2003, etc.), between jobs, shares an auctioned box of baseball cards with Jeb Stuart Hobbs, a high-schooler temporarily living with Owen and his mother, Ruth. After the winner of the other box dies in a suspicious crash and Owen’s home is burgled, he and Victoria Gallagher, the museum’s comely curator, take a road trip to Cincinnati to have his box appraised, with a steamy stopover at a local inn. But even riskier than his dalliance with Victoria—and Jeb Stuart’s increasing dependence on the painkillers prescribed for his broken arm—is Owen’s partnership with Rusty Oliver, a disabled vet with a knack for winning government contracts whose offer to send Owen to investigate accident sites could have fatal consequences.
Billheimer’s intricate riff on fakery is the real deal.