Miserly Ephraim Purcell collected enemies almost as readily as he did money. When he’s found shot dead, the event is shocking, certainly, but in a sense predictable after all. It’s equally predictable that Dr. Clyde Deacon will be doing a bit less doctoring for a while. Fairfield Sheriff Stanley Armstrong, suddenly confronted by an inexplicable burst of outlawry, turns once again to his old friend, pins a deputy’s badge on his chest and drops the Purcell case in his lap. There’s no dearth of suspects, of course. As Doc’s investigation deepens, however, he finds that hostility lurks in some unexpected quarters and takes some unsettling forms. In addition to money and enemies, for instance, it seems that Ephraim also collected pretty women, some of whom objected fiercely to his manner of collecting. Meanwhile, all is not peaceable on Doc’s home front, where love is creating problems as knotty as the murder mystery, though he can take credit for a good many of those problems. Doc’s an above-average medical man, a competent sleuth, but a dud with the fair sex. When he describes himself as “hopelessly obtuse,” most readers will consider his confession an understatement.
Mackay (The Angel of the Glade, 2010, etc.) presents an affable-enough protagonist, but the prose seldom rises above the pedestrian and the twists are more abundant than surprising.