Nine-year-old Cody ""Blister"" McGraw enlists the aid of Connor Gibbs, a CIA agent turned private investigator, to find his long-lost father, Noah Sizemore, on the run from the police. The responsibility of Cody's upbringing (his mother died after Cody was born) has fallen to his man-hating aunt Vera. Gibbs, with the help of remarkable friends--including Holmes Crenshaw, a lawyer (with the firm Sur, Arthur, Cone & Doyle)--searches the underbelly of North Carolina society for Cody's missing father. Sizemore is closely guarded by his large family, who turn up everywhere to foil Gibbs. The PI, who is only ""slightly smaller than a yeti but not as hairy,""loves to use big words and prefers to defuse situations with humor rather than fists--he does get to exercise his muscle in many bloody fistfights. Gibbs's lessons to Cody on manhood can be awkward and distracting, but nonetheless Atkins's hard-boiled debut is lovingly crafted and full of fun surprises. (Mar.) FYI: Atkins is a pseudonym for Clay Harvey (A Whisper of Black).