In his third novel, following Cutdown and Causes of Action, Miller creates a memorable and original portrait of a rural southern sheriff. A native of Hopewell, Va., Sheriff A.G. (Augustus George) Farrell has left his hometown only to attend college at Charlottesville. Highly educated "in a county where fewer than 25 percent of the population could boast of so much as a high school diploma" and available (a congenital defect—a missing kidney—keeps him out of WWII), Farrell gets appointed sheriff in 1942. To his surprise, the 34-year-old bachelor finds himself still sheriff 12 years later. An anonymous phone tip leads to the discovery of a murder victim, a young soldier from a nearby military base, and thrusts Farrell into a mystery as hot and dangerous as the sweltering Virginia heat. The cast of characters occupy traditional roles, from the victim's sensuous widow, to the local pharmacist, to Farrell's hopeful girlfriend. But Miller has imbued them with depth and weight, and while his hero nimbly sidesteps some of the pitfalls hindering the investigation, the reader watches him move toward a greater disaster with the inexorability of a Greek tragedy. The author draws the 1950s perfectly, from physical details such as the rarity of air conditioning and the new fad of television to the social realities of women's status and the racial and social stratification of Virginia society. The resolution and denouement may be the least satisfying elements of this rich mystery, at least for those who crave neat endings, but this is a finely crafted, superbly written novel that deserves wide readership. (Feb. 15)
FYI:Miller's Jackson Street and Other Soldier Stories (1995) won the California Book Award for First Fiction.