Collins's one-armed, ruminative p.i. Dan Fortune, now living in Santa Barbara (The Irishman's Horse, 1991, etc.), is hired to find the killer of Cassandra Reilly, an intelligent drifter working to muster support for rights of the homeless. Chief suspect is misfit Jerry Kohlen, her latest lover, who has vanished. He eludes Dan and the police until Dan finds him, a suicide, amid the carnage of his family. The case of Cassandra Reilly is closed for the police, then, but not for Dan, who's convinced by subtle clues that Kohlen was not her killer. He's sure the solution lies in the bad vibes between the homeless and the various, mostly vicious street- gangs; an odd clique of students from a local, military-type prep school adds another suspicious element. All the major characters are given lengthy family histories--always traumatic--as threats and physical attacks pepper our hero, who doggedly pursues his own scenario to its final resolution. A close-up look at the denizens of a lot of needy, seedy neighborhoods, but the story's momentum and menace are lost in a flood of socioeconomic musings and amateur psychoanalysis. Violent, profane, and mostly dull.