The Santa Barbara police think Johnny Baliol tried to kill his father Ralph, a financial buccaneer; but Ralph's ex-wife Rachel, who can't believe Johnny would have the gumption to pull the trigger on his old man, summons her ex-husband, Langford Morgan, to the scene. Although Morgan soon gathers convincing evidence that exonerates Johnny (e.g., getting himself and Johnny's girlfriend Anne Neville, who may also be Ralph's girlfriend, shot at while Johnny's resting up in prison), he refuses to stick to the program of getting Johnny out of the trouble he was in that night in lieu of shooting his dad. With skeletons fairly flying out of the Baliol closets, Morgan shakes the Santa Barbara dust from his feet and heads up-country to the logging town of Gaul, where he's convinced the real reason for Ralph's shooting will be foundand runs up against not only the usual militant tree-huggers, but his own shadow-self in the form of Ralph's quixotic hired gun Roy Shepherd, the fatal romantic this ungainly tale ends up being about. Like Collins's Dan Fortune (Cassandra in Red, 1992, etc.), Morgan makes a forceful detective. But Collins, unlike Ross Macdonald, to whom he's often compared, doesn't trust his characters to incarnate the social attitudes they're modeling. And when his story turns from detective yarn to a novel of character, it collapses into a series of speeches against rape and clear-cutting, and turns to family trees that explain every evil impulse.