The latest in McCrumb's Ballad series (The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, 1992, etc.) takes off from the legendary tale of Katie Wyler. Kidnapped by the Shawnee in 1779, her escape took her hundreds of miles back to her family in Tennessee before ending in tragedy. Now four people are retracing, mostly unconsciously, the steps of her famous escape. Jeremy Cobb, the most deliberate of the four, is a young historian looking for a new angle for his dissertation on Katie and hoping that a few nights under the stars will reveal to him the same visions that second-sighted old Nora Bonesteel has had. At the same time, Sabrina Harkryder, a hillbilly bride locked in combat with her husband's family, is reliving Katie's life in a much more literal, hopeless way. And Hiram Sorley, an aging convict whose Korsakoff's syndrome has trapped his brain in 1968, when he was sentenced to 99 years for murder, has escaped from prison and is making a beeline to the wife he thinks is still 20 years old. Even Martha Ayers, longtime police dispatcher and acting deputy, finds uncomfortable parallels between her own life and Katie's while she's out looking for Hiram. Before all the trails end, there'll be two more homicides, a suicide, a case of maddened arson capped by still another death, and enough sad satisfaction for three novels. By turns funny, probing, elegiac, and as wise about history as McCrumb has ever been: another stellar performance from one of the best.