St. Martin's, Apr 2003, 24.95, 320 pp.
Failure analyst Owen Allison plans to return to Palo Alto to reconcile with his ex-wife Judith though he was delayed by his need to be with his mother in West Virginia when she underwent chemotherapy (see DISMAL MOUNTAIN). However, further problems in West Virginia postpone Owen's trip to the West Coast.
The dam by the Canaan II mine erupts, killing four and filling DRYBONE HOLLOW with coal sludge. Owner Anson Stoke hires Owen to persuade environmentalist Judge Carter Vereen that despite the toll, his operations remain safe and should stay open. Judge Vereen orders an investigation of all impoundment dams sitting on mines, which leads to state attorney general Hayes Boyer asking Owen to head the inquiry, but demanding a kickback of 15% of Owen's fee. Owen rejects the offer, but turns to his friend Sheriff Thad Reader to set a trap to expose those using fixed contracts, but the law enforcement official deals with a full plate already as a local has probably been abducted. So Owen plunges ahead knowing he will receive limited support from his buddy, but mine engineer Emily Kruk makes it worth while to stay in West Virginia a bit longer.
Though the “will he reconcile or not” becomes a bit annoying, readers will appreciate the latest Owen Allison investigative tale. Most of the audience will kick themselves when they see how obvious John Billheimer's plot solves the mystery as the clues are all provided, but so devilishly done that most fans (including this sore reviewer) will fail to see it. The cast is a delight with the hero at his best when he investigates.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner