An overwrought debut thriller set in the not-quite-ready-to-be-new South. It’s 1983. To Black Pool, Mississippi, returns native Lewis Kincaid, drawn there by a dying mother. Not that he likes her much’she’s a drunk, plus she deserted him—but Lewis is never one to shirk his duty. She’s black, Lewis’s equally no-account father was white, and Lewis can think of a dozen places he’d rather be than in a town where biracial means second class at best. There’s Detroit, for instance, where he enjoyed the beginnings of a nice career in law. Now, however, to help pay the bills while he keeps his deathwatch, Lewis hires on as a deputy to Sheriff Dodie. It’s a chance gig, which is to say it happens by telephone: Dodie, worn, weary, and a little dim, hires Lewis under the impression that he’s white. Still, Dodie—that seeming redneck—has other sides to him. When the skeleton of a teenaged young black boy, victim of a 30-year-old lynching, is discovered, Dodie permits Lewis to investigate. It’s permission granted reluctantly, of course. “Things like that are part of the past,” Dodie says. Not to be dissuaded, Lewis starts to dig, an activity that rouses almost as little enthusiasm among the town’s blacks as it does among its whites. Unwelcome, unpopular Lewis gets beaten, shot, and nearly lynched himself. But indomitable amalgam of super- and soaper-hero that he is, he takes on all comers, resists all temptation (an adorable white girl throws herself at him harder than a Nolan Ryan fastball), and leaves Black Pool a degree more enlightened than when he arrived. Clumsy prose, stereotyped people—and a first novelist who has to learn that in plotting the twist is better than the wrench.