James C. Mitchell, Author . St Martin's Minotaur $23.95 (294p) ISBN 978-0-312-31530-6

Set along the Arizona/Mexico frontera, Mitchell's impressive, well-crafted debut captures the gritty reality of border life. Roscoe Brinker, a Tucson-based private detective and former INS agent, left the service after being shot in the line of duty by, he suspects, a fellow agent. A local business mogul, Mo Crain, hires him to look into the murder of Crain's wife, Sandra, who worked along the border as a nurse helping abandoned and battered children. Sandra seems to have had few enemies, but as Brinker's investigation proceeds, it seems that her death might be linked to a smuggling operation, and to Henry Sanchez, the corrupt INS agent that Brinker believes shot him. Meanwhile, Brinker's personal life is unraveling as his longtime girlfriend, Dolores Gonzales, an ambitious young TV reporter, seems poised to take a job in New York, leaving the desert and Brinker behind. At the heart of the book is a little girl whom Brinker and his former partner, Al Avila, once discovered living inside a drainage tunnel. Instead of following proper protocol and giving her up to the Mexican authorities, Avila decided to adopt the child. As Brinker draws closer to the truth, and to Sanchez, he discovers that the case might indeed be linked to the same six-year-old girl. Geared toward those who like their mysteries medium-boiled, the book will invariably perform best in the Southwest, where the built-in readership for regional mysteries is strong. Agent, Esmond Harmsworth.(July 7)

Forecast:Utah's Monument Valley, depicted on the jacket, bears no resemblance to the novel's actual locale hundreds of miles to the south, but the scene will no doubt help corral western fans.

Reviewed on: 06/30/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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