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Douglas, whose Shawney Alley Fire debut (1987) was so strong and distinctive, offers a much more ordinary, run-of-the-mine mystery this time: evil doings in a 1923 coal town--sleuthed by a naive, young narrator-shamus. Brand-new in the detective-agency business, college-grad Bill Edmonson accompanies his boss, old pro Frank Grant, to Blind Spring, West Va. They're posing as folklorists in search of old ballads. They've really been hired to find out who killed prospector Lancelot Scott five years ago--before the mining boom. Was Scott knocked off (as rumor has it) by tycoon Timothy Briggs, who started his local mine-empire soon after the prospector's death? Or was the killer an Italian coalminer (as the Blind Spring sheriff now claims)? Soon, however, there's a new murder: Frank Grant is found mangled at the bottom of a loaded coal-car--so hero Bill is left to carry on alone. He visits the dead prospector's old cronies; he befriends (and is predictably seduced by) the sexy girlfriend of tycoon Briggs' demented son; he also finds himself meeting, somewhat reluctantly, with labor-movement spies--who believe that Grant was killed because he was mistaken for a union organizer. (A strike is in the wind.) And, after some shooting and the poisoning of a key witness, Bill unmasks the not-very-surprising culprits behind all the mayhem. With faint echoes of Hammett's Red Harvest: a familiar combination of historical sleuthing and coming-of-age drama, serviceably carpentered but short on both genuine suspense and richness of place-and-character.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's