With this immense, joyous novel about the bumpy undercurrents in the New South's otherwise smooth flow of domesticity and commerce, Malone (Uncivil Seasons, Dingley Falls) has written the best, most vibrantly comic book of his career. Raleigh Hayes, a 45-year-old insurance salesman and solid citizen of Thermopylae, N.C., is summoned by his roguish old father to collect the loose ends of that father's life and report with them to New Orleans, where--according to Early Hayes--Raleigh will be rewarded with a large inheritance. (Raleigh is rewarded, but not in the way he hopes.) Against all precedents of character and common sense, Raleigh complies, and that is when implausibility takes a back seat to the pure, fast-paced fun that the book becomes. As Raleigh picks up the musty artifacts his father has requested and searches for his reprobate younger brother Gates and for an enigmatic old black man to whom his father seems to owe a debt, he also inadvertently assembles a wild and varied cast of comic characters, each with his own agenda as the group travels south. The charming Gates (Raleigh does find him) is escaping from a small-time Southern mob; his friend Simon Berg is escaping from a half-completed jail term; Toutant, a jazz musician and junk-yard man, wants to go to New Orleans to make his fortunes; and, best of all, Raleigh's fat, fearful, utterly endearing neighbor Mingo Sheffield is fleeing from an imaginary Thermopylaean murder charge and wants to be of help to Raleigh. Together they steal a car, negotiate a cocaine deal, outwit the security staff of a South Carolina theme park, fight a duel, deliver a baby and arrive, each a hero, in New Orleans, where, before Raleigh's father dies a sweet and very moving death, each has a wish granted and a mystery revealed. The mystery revealed to Raleigh is the depth and resonance of his family background, which is the resonance of a South more complex and personal than the one he's lived in until now. Handling Sin--the father's sins, in this case purposely visited on the child--just misses being a classic mostly because of manic action too assiduously pursued. But it's a delightful book that readers will want to savor--at least once.