Cudberth Mangum--the outspoken and improbably literate redneck North Carolina police chief who played Watson to Justin Saville's aristocratic detective in Uncivil Seasons (1983)--takes center stage as the narrator-hero of this wonderfully amusing story of murder, racism, and political corruption. Cuddy knows from the beginning that rogue cop Bobby Pym was killed by young black George Hall, who's been waiting seven years to be executed. But when George's kid brother Cooper is killed on the day after the governor grants George still another stay, Cuddy turns up evidence linking this new killing to a series of police shakedowns, a white supremacist conspiracy, and an ambitious young politician, Andy Brookside--who may or may not be seen frolicking in a pornographic videotape, and whose wife Lee is an old flame of Cuddy's. Though Malone's moral criticism of the not-so-New South is serious, he spins out the labyrinthine developments of his plot with dizzying rapidity, like a boy showing off a complicated new toy, and his tone, as usual, is broadly comic. Throughout the splendid first half of the story, Cuddy's voice provides a hilarious perspective for encounters with prickly lawyer Isaac Rosethorn, inept con man Billy Gilchrist, rapacious dowager Edwina (Mrs. Marion) Sunderland, and a host of other fools and innocents, most of them hopelessly ensnared in the daisy chain leading from George Hall's death-row cell to the Statehouse. In the second half, Cuddy is sidelined when George's case comes up for retrial, and Malone's plotting and writing get regrettably more flatfooted; he's better at knotting the strands of his comically corrupt social contract than at untying them. A marvelously engaging morality play masquerading, not very convincingly, as a detective story. Five hundred pages of Cuddy Mangum merely whet the appetite for more.