Police chiefs, that is--in an episodic five-decade tale of three chiefs and many connected murders in one tiny Georgia town. The first chief is cotton farmer Will Henry Lee, who escapes the boll-weevil plague on his farm by asking for the job of sheriff in Delano, a new 1919 town devised in part by a banker-politician. But very soon Will is handed the worst case of his career: a naked teenager is found dead under a bluff from which he's fallen, and nearby is the house of Foxy Funderburke, a weirdly immaculate, crazy military type and gun fanatic who seems to be the likeliest suspect. But nothing can be proved--as is also the case with two subsequent teenage-boy deaths. And just as Will is about to break the case, he's killed--by a delirious (malaria) black man. So, while Will's son Billy Lee grows up to become a WW II bomber pilot and later lieutenant-governor of Georgia (with a shot at replacing Southerner Lyndon Johnson on JFK's reelection ticket), the murder-mystery lies fallow--despite subsequent missing teenagers--until bullyboy war-hero Sonny Butts, a black-baiting Klansman, becomes a police chief: he confronts Foxy. . . and gets himself shot and buried along with his motorcycle. Thus, it's up to Delano's first black police chief--Tucker Watts, who happens to be the son of the man who killed Will Henry--to close in on the maniac-murderer. Considering the current horror of murdered black children in Atlanta, this tale of mass slaughter is all too timely. But even without that topical hook, Woods' first novel is strong, decent, and suspenseful--especially rich in its varied, appealing characterizations.