When transportation inspector Owen Allison comes home to rural West Virginia to tend to his dying mother, he finds three oddly interlocking crimes in this decidedly mixed bag of a third novel (after 2000's Highway Robbery). Mountain View Development is cutting the top off a mountain and building a shopping mall. Trouble is, the company's trucks are making mysterious late-night trips to the site. Lizzie Neal, who runs the local hospice where Owen's mother is slated to stay, gets arrested for the murder of a construction worker. Lizzie quickly confesses, even though the facts of the case point to her innocence. Sister Mary, a nun working at the local hospital, used to date Owen in her previous life. At the hospital the patients' bills are showing strange irregularities dead dogs getting grief counseling and two-day stays billed for four. Sister Mary dies, apparently pregnant, of a drug overdose, and the hospital's bookkeeper vanishes after alerting the authorities to the discrepancies in the account books. The whole caper smells worse than an unchanged bedpan. Owen's a pretty dull egg to try and build a crime series around, so wisely the author pads this tale with enough down-home witticisms to keep his readers chuckling. But when he gamely tries to ratchet up the tension with a car crash and a long dark night in an abandoned mineshaft, the pace change jars. Too many crimes, a lot of mostly okay jokes and a bland sleuth add up to only middling entertainment. Agent, Ruth Cohen.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The third Owen Allison mystery, following Contrary Blues (1998) and Highway Robbery (2000), finds the transportation inspector defending his aunt Lizzie against a murder charge. With her land threatened by the construction of a shopping mall, Lizzie parks herself at the edge of her property, shotgun in her lap, vowing to do whatever it takes to stop the dump trucks; then, suddenly, a truck driver is dead. Did Aunt Lizzie really shoot him? Owen smells a rat, but Lizzie seems determined to refuse his help. Throw in an assortment of well-drawn characters (Billheimer's specialty) and a clever scam run by some shady hospital administrators, and you have a first-rate crime novel. There are plenty of mysteries featuring amateur sleuths whose primary occupation is only peripherally connected with law enforcement (reporters, writers, safety inspectors), but Allison is one of the most believable and most entertaining of the bunch. Billheimer's characters are so vividly drawn they threaten to wander off the page and into the real world. David Pitt
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