SHAWNEE ALLEY FIRE by John Douglas
Kirkus Star

SHAWNEE ALLEY FIRE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In the first section of this unusually structured, thoroughly seductive mystery debut, 35-ish photographer Jack Reese--recently returned to his hometown, the blue-collar city of Shawnee, W. Va.--describes several visits to his studio by a pretty, 30-ish stranger. At first the woman asks for standard passport photos; when she returns for them, however, she asks for another photo-session--and poses more suggestively; she arrives for a third session in a sexy gown. And then, on the night of a scheduled fourth session, the woman never shows up. Instead, she's found beaten to death in a nearby canal--just a day or so after Jake's 85-year-old neighbor Daniel Jones dies in a suspicious fire. Is there a link between the murdered mystery-woman--who turns out to be Susan Devendall, wife of a rich, middle-aged society lawyer--and Daniel Jones' arson-death? That's the question for 40-ish cop Edward Harter, whose viewpoint predominates through the rest of the novel. Harter interviews Susan's stuffy husband, her snobbish mother-in-law, her secret lover (a congressman). But he also looks into the distant past of railroad-man Daniel Jones, finds some crucial clues--and, with help from Jack Reese and Reese's fierce old railroad-man uncle, traps the genuinely unpleasant killers. The mystery-plot here, once revealed, is a familiar, rather ordinary one. But Douglas' treatment--though lean and unpretentious in style--emphasizes the textures instead of the puzzle: the mountain-town's sociology, with clear-cut haves and have-nots (including cop Hatter himself); the local history of railroads, steel, and unions; the similar mid-life moodiness of the photographer and the cop, two quietly likable loners. And the result--despite a slightly disappointing windup--is quietly enthralling and memorably evocative (with echoes of Hammett's Red Harvest), the most auspicious of the many recent mystery-debuts.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's