cover image Vanishing Smile

Vanishing Smile

Earl Emerson. Ballantine Books, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-345-38486-7

In his eighth adventure (following The Portland Laugher), Seattle PI Thomas Black accompanies lawyer Kathy Birchfield to a mysterious meeting with a client in the mountains on a rainy night. Birchfield's car strikes a pedestrian who seems to materialize out of nowhere. The victim is identified as Birchfield's client, a 71-year-old amateur gumshoe named Marian Wright. Too much about the ``accident'' looks suspicious to Black, especially when he learns that Wright was hounding several locals with allegations about their sexual histories. The case leads to a web of past lovers who may or may not be linked to a young woman dying of AIDS. Black's investigation is complicated by his love for Kathy, whose fiance he accidentally shot to death several months earlier, and by the return to town of his own wayward father. These relationships show a vulnerable side of the tough, resourceful Black, but they also sometimes slow down the story. Although it takes a chart to keep the characters and their couplings straight, Shamus-winner Emerson wraps them up credibly and does so with gritty panache. (Nov.)