A beautifully handled debut novel that balances all the best p.i. elements (the essentially alone hero, his requisite personal code, his ""Watsons,"" and his sudden deep, though abruptly terminated romantic involvement) with a lyrical sense of the country--here, mallards, mergansers, and Idaho mountain air. Protagonist Chris Klick, a songwriter and song-detective--he tracks down artists who are owed royalties--becomes lovingly obsessed with Nicole Russell, whose husband took her dog, her money, and left. She wants him found. But the first body on view belongs to Greg Sweetland, the horse expert in the loony Sweetland family, whose face was blasted away with the same pellets that are found in Nicole's dog when it reappears, alone. Soon Klick, his snooping buddy Lyel (""a two-hundred-and-forty-pound millionaire ape""), and Nicole are dealing with an FBI agent; a DEA agent; a mix-up in corpses; a horse-stealing and illegal-studding operation; and an alcoholic doctor and a venal sheriff who hightails it to the hills, where the two men and a wily tracker go after him in one of the book's most impressive sequences. Sardonic, wry, and remarkable in both plotting and pacing, particularly for a first-time author. Klick's charm lies in his small pleasures (bird-watching, mainly) and will undoubtedly make converts. A sequel is in the works.