A missing mafia son-in-law leads Spenser and Hawk (Thin Air, 1995, etc., etc.) across the country and back to some alarmingly intricate, high-level double-dealing. It's obvious that Shirley Meeker's husband Anthony is a bum, so why does her father, important thug Julius Ventura, want his brainless courier back? And why would Marty Anaheim, a capo for Gino Fish's gang, be so interested in Spenser's current commission that he'd have him tailed? Smelling an in-house ripoff by the courier, Spenser follows a hunch (lot of those this time) and takes off with mean Hawk and beauteous Susan for Las Vegas, where, sure enough, Anthony turns up, playing a progressive system he's positive will net him all the money there is. Spenser knows there's got to be more to the story, and there is: Anthony's sharing a toothbrush with Marty's wife Bibi. For reasons of his own, Spenser agrees to keep Ventura off Anthony and Bibi for a few days--just long enough for Shirley to follow her husband to Vegas and get herself raped, beaten, and strangled. Then, in short order, Anthony disappears again, and so does Bibi, whom softhearted Spenser puts on a plane to L.A. to vanish without realizing that she wants to disappear from him too. Just when you're thinking that Spenser's coasting on his earlier reputation, the guy actually starts to do some detective work, uncovering secrets back in Boston that link the few characters who weren't already involved with each other, and tying the whole scheming lot into a struggle for control of the Boston mob. Spenser will redeem his missteps through the usual quota of strutting showdowns ("I had four. Usually that was enough, and would have to be again. After all, I had one more bullet than attackers") before the curtain comes down for good on the bad guys' necks. A '90s update of The Big Sleep with some of its celebrated model's structural problems: deeply satisfying page by page, but more than a little disjointed in retrospect.