Sent by United Life and Casualty to tiny Tatum, New Mexico, to investigate wealthy Billy Roland Eklund’s six-figure claims for the death of three of his most highly prized cattle, private eye Dan Mahoney arrives at the Double Horseshoe Ranch just in time for the fireworks. First is the flash flood that’ll probably be the basis for Billy Roland’s next claim against United Life. The following morning, Dan is present when a car he saw being hotly pursued by the local sheriff at the height of the storm is pulled from the muck with ex-con Eric Linden’s current girlfriend inside. Still missing is attorney/pilot Eric, who’d been released from prison the day before after agreeing to serve seven years for drug-running in return for the $2 million payoff promised by Billy Roland’s lawyer. Soon thereafter, Dan’s a witness along with dozens of others when a well-insured Double Horseshoe bull drops dead at a cattle show. And there are fireworks on the home front as well. Visiting his politically connected sister Carolyn 90 miles away in Roswell, Dan is introduced to Professor Elaine Linden, and to her bed, before he realizes she’s Eric’s not-quite-divorced widow—and that a pair of local FBI agents suspicious of both Eric and Billy Roland will insist that he continue his affair wearing a wire.
There’ll be much, much more, with whispers of everything from alien experiments to voodoo, before Slater (Thunderbird, not reviewed, etc.) closes out this lively, surprising, overstuffed case, first of a series with one eye on Don Winslow’s California Fire and Life.