Proving that the tough guy novel needn't be about a tough guy at all, first-novelist Van Gieson offers up a smart-mouthed cookie who refers to her young lover as ""The Kid""; whose idea of foreplay is, ""You awake, bitch?""; and who can belt from the bottle with a bravura that would nonplus the Continental Op and all his current counterparts. She's wonderful. Her name is Neil Hamel, she's an Albuquerque lawyer (DWI's, mostly, and penny-ante divorces, with a bonbon for a secretary and jerk for a partner), and, here, she's trying to straighten out a dangling thread in ex-lover Carl Robert's life: Who's sending him anonymous letters hinting at the illegality of his son's adoption? Over the border Neil goes, to query Mexican attorney Menendez, who handled the paperwork, only to find him with his throat slit. So it's on to a Home for Unwed Mothers; accidental-on-purpose (on his part, anyway) meetings with trucker Sam; a fund-raiser at Carl's father-in-law's estate; a casual toast across a bar with a man who looks like a bulldog; skulduggery about a proposed nuclear-waste dump on the site of an old gold mine owned, with qualifiers, by that father-in-law; more threatening letters; a passel of snarling guard dogs (will someone--please--put these canine clichÃ‰s to rest?), and a denouement that treats those dogs to a little snack. A well-thought-out plot, with some absolutely magical descriptions of Albuquerque and Mexican backroads, peoples, and pleasures. NeWs a find (and The Kid ain't bad, either).