The welcome return of Indianapolis shamus-narrator Albert Samson--who's more rueful than funny these days (business is bad) but whose new case has enough beguiling kooks, shapely twists, and sadly wayward killings to make it one of the year's mystery-fiction standouts. Hired by out-of-towner Elizabeth Staedtler to find her old friend Priscilla Pynne, Albert heads for Mrs. Pynne's small town--where a quick-tongued lady sheriff informs him that unhappily married, 27-year-old Priscilla disappeared some time back, presumably having run off with stud-about-town Billy Boyd (who, according to local conservation types, probably murdered his land-rich mother). Case closed? So it seems, when Ms. Staedtler calls Albert off the case and leaves town. But when Boyd's body turns up later and Priscilla's surly husband is arrested, Albert is again hired to find that missing woman--which isn't hard once he realizes that ex-client Staedtler was Priscilla Pynne herself! That's just the first of several not-entirely-original but sweetly handled reversals here. And, throughout, Lewin's compassionately wry, understated sketches of human nature in disarray are remarkable--all the resonances of Ross Macdonald without the harsh glare and solemn imagery. (Even dispossessed Albert's new landlord is fascinating' a black entrepreneur who's collecting glass as a hedge against the coming energy shortage.) Not as sheerly pleasurable as Albert's other outings, perhaps, but his dry, airy humor is in fine working order--and it's grounded, now, by a pessimistic downward tug that suits Lewin surprisingly well.