Convalescing in San Francisco General after trading shots with his best friend Charley Sleet (Past Tense, 1997), shamus John Marshall Tanner is a sitting duck for this season’s hopeless cause, the plight of the Salinas strawberry growers personified by saintly UFS organizer Rita Lombardi, who’s recuperating down the hall from an operation to straighten her long-crippled legs. Since Rita’s put whatever little sparkle Marsh’s surviving friends have found in his eyes, he’s eager to give her a call in Haciendas (pop. 1982) when he gets out. By that time, though, she’s already been killed in a savage attack that’s left her fiancÇ, independent grower Carlos Reyna, grim-faced and her mother, widowed 26 years ago by a hit-and-run driver, frozen in grief. Rita’s family and friends aren’t too dazed to denounce seigneurial grower Gus Gelbride, who runs everything in Haciendas but his uncontrollable wild-oats son Randy. Even though the case would be much too simple if Gus or Randy had killed Rita, Marsh digs up enough dirt on them to paint an appetizingly nasty family portrait and make you cringe with guilt next time you bite into a non-union—picked strawberry. Sadly, his idea of detecting this time out is to bed down with the comely ADA who’s trying to question him about Charley Sleet, invite the Gelbrides to tell him what Rita had on them, and accuse the wrong suspects of killing her. Despite a solution that’s a lot less inventive and satisfying than the red herrings, Marsh’s 13th offers another professional job of muckraking.