The insular world of small airports, small planes, stunt flying, and flight instruction is explored in exhaustive detail in p.i. Sharon McCone's 18th case (The Broken Promise Land, 1996, etc.). Sharon has become a licensed pilot under the tutelage of tender-tough instructor Matty Windress at Los Alegres Municipal Airport, a short hop from San Francisco, where Sharon runs her investigative agency. Matty has lived for the last year with her boyfriend, John Seabrook, owner of a tree farm, and his young son Zachary. Now Seabrook has vanished, leaving Zachary behind, and Matty hires Sharon to find him. Matty knows nothing of Seabrook's past, but a letter surfaces within days instructing her to immediately withdraw the $70,000 he's wired into her bank account, then to take Zachary and disappear, telling no one her whereabouts. Matty balks--insists on carrying through her commitment to perform in an upcoming air show, and is killed when her plane crashes to the ground, sabotaged despite the efforts of Sharon and her lover Hy Ripinsky, once a flight instructor, to oversee the plane's safety. A saddened Sharon stashes Zachary with an old lawyer friend and gets to the business of dredging up Seabrook's life, using nephew Mick's computer skills; questioning every appropriate source; hopscotching the country in Hy's small plane or on commercial lines. There are more killings before she and Hy track down the root source of all the mayhem--Stirling Aviation, a manufacturing firm in Arkansas; its board of directors; its long- missing former head Duncan Stirling, and an old, still reverberating scandal. An overextended story that rambles all over the map--literally and otherwise--but still manages to excite and hold the reader's attention. Another sturdy performance from an old hand.