The author's third foray into the world of geologist Emily Hansen (A Fall in Denver, 1995, etc.), currently devastated by the loss of her job with Blackfeet Oil in Denver and by the recent death of her father. Rescue seems to come with a summons from Senator George Pinchon, who wants Em to investigate the murder of his geologist daughter Janet, found strangled in a ditch on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. The senator is paying Em a desperately needed $500 a day and has a truck (which turns out to be Janet's) waiting for her at the airport in California. The young woman was found, with bicycle nearby, by Jaime Martinez, handyman and winery worker in the vineyards owned by Will Karsh, father of giant-sized, brain-damaged Matthew, who lives with his mother Deirdre on the road where the body was discovered. The Karshes also have a daughter who left home in her teens many years ago. All of this Em ferrets out before talking her way into a job with HRC Environmental Consultants, who'd fired Janet just two days before her death. HRC installs wells, does soil samples, and pulls leaky storage tanks--a job they're presently doing on Jaime Martinez's homestead, which is owned by Deirdre Karsh. It takes days of searching through land-owning records and sorting out political and money connections, not to mention surviving a vicious physical attack, before Em gets it all figured out--just as she also (with help from her lesbian horse-rancher Aunt Frida) comes to terms with the personal, long-repressed traumas of her own life. The two agendas--contemporary mystery puzzle and Em's many- layered past--never do mesh, a failure resulting in an overextended, talky, and relentlessly introspective novel.