It's taken Malone a dozen years (Times Witness, 1989) to return to Hillston, North Carolina, and its chief of police, curmudgeonly savant Cudberth (Cuddy) Mangum, and its homicide chief, echt aristocratic southerner Justin B.Savile V—but the excruciatingly long writing time has resulted in an award-caliber tale of murder, despair, and backroom deals. While Cuddy and JBFive are trying to identify the name of the second, hideously mutilated victim of the press-dubbed “Guess Who?” serial killer, mathematics professor Tyler Norris is on trial for the murder of his pregnant wife. Despite Judge Turbot's obvious belief in his guilt, his community standing and the wiley antics of old-time lawyer Isaac Rosethorn will probably set him free. Meanwhile, JBFive, despondent over the death of his infant son and separated from his wife Alice, has not only started drinking and smoking again, but has become mesmerized by touring rock superstar Mavis Mahar. The Guess Who killer is leaving taunting clues in Cuddy's office, around the courthouse, and even on the next few bodies, one of whom is thought to be Mavis and is barely covered by Governor Andy Brookside's raincoat, which quickly disappears in the arms of one of his aides. Two Guatemalan crones will die, as will Judge Turbot, before Cuddy stalemates the interfering attorney general, JBFive deciphers some of the more cryptic clues, and the Guess Who murderer is in their sights. The result: gorgeous writing—is there anyone better than a southerner at the top of his form?—and a near-perfect dovetailing of two instances of problematic love, the right-hand-washing-the-left over political lunches, as well as a passel of heroes to root for, including a cancer-stricken fed, a cop and his dog partner, an ageing black blues pianist and a first lady true to her southern roots—and marriage vows.
Start buffing up those awards now.