Though he's been resting up ever since Thicker Than Blood (1993), St. Louis shamus Alo Nudger has to be dragged into helping colleague Lacy Tumulty investigate the accidental death (a tumble down a flight of steps) of bank loan officer Betty Almermaybe because Lacy's at least equally interested in a role-playing fantasy in which Nudger, still happily unmarried to teacher Claudia Bettencourt, climbs in through Lacy's bedroom window and gets stripped of everything but his ski mask. Then Lacy's attacked by a knife-wielding goon, and Nudger's unhappily in for a pound. But he doesn't have to worry about disappointing Lacy's client, Betty's father Loren Almer, because all too soon Almer burns to the ground in his house, leaving only well-insured Betty's fiancÇ Brad Millman standing. Then, five months later, Brad dies in a one-car crash; a new client phoning Nudger in fear of her life is electrocuted by a hair dryer before he can return her call; and Nudger is left wondering how many accidents it'll take to get the attention of old friend Lt. Jack Hammersmith. There's nothing surprising about the solution, or even about Nudger's detective work, which mostly consists of repeated doses of B&E; but once she's recuperated, Lacy is a formidably giddy companion for stolid Nudger, who also manages to come up with a welcome new use for stale doughnuts. Lutz's real gift, though, is to evoke the humdrum poetry of detective work better than anyone else.