Down by the River

Monte Schulz, Author
Monte Schulz, Author Viking Books $19.95 (399p) ISBN 978-0-670-83346-7
Mass Market Paperbound - 416 pages - 978-0-451-17253-2
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The son of cartoonist Charles Schulz writes a fragmented but essentially intriguing first novel about a small California town riddled by brutal deaths. A year and a half after moving to Rivertown, police chief Carroll Howser is given his first big crime to solve when a teenage girl is gang-raped, then killed during a summer heat wave. A leader of the community accuses the hoboes encamped at the railroad yard. But when one tramp is killed and another escapes after a posse sprays the camp with gunfire, Howser is appalled at the townspeople's idea of justice. Shortly afterward, teenage boys are attacked and killed, and Howser begins to suspect that someone other than a hobo is on a rampage. Each character in this overlong story has a past to wrestle with. In fact, the plot centers so heavily around each person's mundane angst that many of the major events, such as vandalism at a local garage, are neither explained nor tied in with the solution to the murders. While Schulz succeeds in conveying small-town class structures and the doomladen atmosphere that develops as violent events multiply, the disjointed plot will disappoint mystery fans. (Feb.)
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