Cooper, creator of the well-regarded Sheriff Milton Kovack series (Chasing Away the Devil, etc.), has a gutsy new sleuth in Texas housewife/romance writer E.J. Pugh--wife of oil-field consultant Willis and mother of two small children. The family's best friends in Black Cat Ridge are their next-door neighbors the Lesters--Terry, Roy, and their children Aldon, Bessie, and teenager Monique. One ordinary morning, E.J. walked into the Lester house and found everyone shot to death except four-year-old Bessie, mute with shock. The police say Roy killed his family, then committed suicide. But E.J. and Willis know that's impossible. E.J. makes a pest of herself, trying to convince anyone who'll listen that a murderer is on the loose. It takes a deadly attack on her family to convert police opinion, and a nearly missed clue (the alert reader will get it) to pin down motive and killer. E.J.'s rough mouth and confrontational ways make her the unlikeliest writer of romances one could imagine, but she's real, warmhearted, unsoppy, and tells her fast-moving, thoroughly engrossing story with straight-ahead verve.