Think little Russell Creek, West Virginia, offers little scope for a budding sleuth? Not so. This second adventure for p.i. Zoe Kergulin (Ordinary Justice, 1999) begins when she’s confronted with a puzzle much too close to home. Someone has shot her dearly loved cousin—Bickle County Sheriff Ethan McKenna, now fighting for his life in a closely guarded hospital room—and killed his deputy Rosalyn Fitzgerald. Across the creek from the grounds of the Fitzgerald home, where the two officers were attacked, lives teenaged neighbor Renata Bertram, who claims to have seen two men running from the scene. But Renata—a notorious liar and marijuana smoker bitterly at odds with her mother and new stepfather—is hardly an ideal witness. Other complications promptly develop. There are rumors of an affair between Ethan and Rosalyn, whose husband needs an alibi as airtight as Kirk Fitzgerald’s seems. Zoe suspects, however, that her cousin’s recent attempts to nail down the source for local drug dealers is a more potent motive. Although warned by FBI agent Libby Gordon to stay out of the whole mess, she continues to explore every possibility, seeking help from Sheriff Shep Tuttle of neighboring Feller County, state narcotics agent Andrew Prescott, and finally FBI agent Whitby Marshall, who helps bring the case to its far-out, unconvincing conclusion.
A fussy narrative style and an oversupply of extraneous characters and plot lines mire the author’s attractive heroine in details a lot less rewarding than she is.