Burnt out after a career defending insurance companies against their claimants, widowed by a car crash, guilty over not having gone to Vietnam, North Dakota attorney Jake Warner, hero of this debut suspense novel, leaves his practice in 1975 to make an honest living as an auto mechanic. Ten years later, he is summoned to the deathbed of a county sheriff, who reveals that he was a conspirator in an insurance fraud that bilked the company out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and paid accident victims' and their families nothing. Allied with girlfriend Luella, herself an accident victim, Jake uses his knowledge of the insurance business to defraud the defrauders, collect a pile of money for his wife's death and see justice done. Although complicated unnecessarily by pretentious prose and heavy-handed thematic flags (everyone is a victim sooner or later, flesh and metal have things in common), the novel sustains tension throughout. Keeping the blood and guts off the page, Early nonetheless creates in Wally Reno a memorably nasty psychopathic villain and complex, sympathetic protagonists in Jake and Luella. (July) FYI: Before he took up the pen, Early worked as an insurance adjuster in his native North Dakota.