Good thing Cornelia Jones is a practicing realist; there’s not much comfort in white-bread Westport, Oregon, for African-Americans like her. On the other hand, Westport happens to be home to the superb Oceanographic Center, and Jan Koto, the good-looking, sensitive Japanese-American with whom Neely cohabits, happens to be a superb oceanographer. And “whither Jan goes, there go I” is Neely’s primary operating principle. So two years ago she followed Jan from the San Francisco Police Department to the Taft County Sheriff’s Office in Westport. Now those good ol’ boys in the TCSO aren’t just casually racist/sexist, they go at it hammer and tongs. How Neely got herself hired by redneck Sheriff Giff Wills is a mystery to her—one never adequately explained to the reader, by the way. And how, on election day, she manages to dislodge the entrenched Giff by dint of write-in ballots (who from?) stretches credibility further. Moreover, having won the job, it seems Neely doesn’t actually want it. On e-day plus one, however, Jan is brutally murdered, and that changes everything. Neely knows she’s sheriff to stay—despite a balky staff, a spineless D.A., a neo-Nazi rabble, an imported hit-man, and assorted other baddies—at least long enough for Jan’s killer to be caught, for justice to be served, and for her to inch toward closure. Wren leaves her long-running Conan Flagg series (Wake Up, Darlin’ Corey, 1984, etc.) for a new and possibly worthier protagonist. But though Neely has winning ways, helter-skelter plotting hurts her debut.