DISMAL MOUNTAIN: An Owen Allison Mystery

John Billheimer, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-26981-4

When transportation inspector Owen Allison comes home to rural West Virginia to tend to his dying mother, he finds three oddly interlocking crimes in this decidedly mixed bag of a third novel (after 2000's Highway Robbery). Mountain View Development is cutting the top off a mountain and building a shopping mall. Trouble is, the company's trucks are making mysterious late-night trips to the site. Lizzie Neal, who runs the local hospice where Owen's mother is slated to stay, gets arrested for the murder of a construction worker. Lizzie quickly confesses, even though the facts of the case point to her innocence. Sister Mary, a nun working at the local hospital, used to date Owen in her previous life. At the hospital the patients' bills are showing strange irregularities—dead dogs getting grief counseling and two-day stays billed for four. Sister Mary dies, apparently pregnant, of a drug overdose, and the hospital's bookkeeper vanishes after alerting the authorities to the discrepancies in the account books. The whole caper smells worse than an unchanged bedpan. Owen's a pretty dull egg to try and build a crime series around, so wisely the author pads this tale with enough down-home witticisms to keep his readers chuckling. But when he gamely tries to ratchet up the tension with a car crash and a long dark night in an abandoned mineshaft, the pace change jars. Too many crimes, a lot of mostly okay jokes and a bland sleuth add up to only middling entertainment. Agent, Ruth Cohen. (July 16)

Reviewed on: 06/18/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Mass Market Paperbound - 304 pages - 978-0-373-26431-5
Paperback - 342 pages - 978-1-932325-43-0
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