cover image Shawnee Alley Fire

Shawnee Alley Fire

John Douglas. St. Martin's Press, $15.95 (215pp) ISBN 978-0-312-00679-2

Douglas is a journalist, a fine writer who brings the reader close to the people in Shawnee Valley, an Appalachian town hit by hard times in the 1980s. Here photographer Jack Reese comes home after losing his job in a big city. In the company of elderly Henry (Tattoo) and May Kendall, among other retirees, Jack is told of the few local rich families who merely tolerate those on welfare and the elderly who live on small pensions. Although he's on their side, Jack welcomes pay offered by Susan Kendall, wife of a wealthy lawyer, to photograph her in private. Posing in sexy costumes, Susan keeps several appointments, until she disappears. Her body is found in a ditch the day after Tattoo's old friend Daniel dies in a fire that levels his house. Now Detective Edward Harter dominates the story. Questioning Reese and the Kendalls, he widens his investigation, tracing links to long-ago crimes, with the help of the photographer and Jones's outraged neighbors. A mystery with real depth is also a powerful social history of people who remember ""FDR and Eleanor, they had heart . . . not like the tinman with the actor's voice. . . .'' (July 20)