cover image The Prairie Chicken Kill

The Prairie Chicken Kill

Bill Crider. Walker & Company, $20.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-3282-8

In this enjoyable fourth series entry, Galveston PI Truman Smith (When Old Men Die, 1994) is hired by Lance Garrison, his still unpleasant but now rich high-school classmate, to investigate the shooting of a prairie chicken (really a kind of grouse) on Garrison's federally protected land in Picketville, Tex. Smith reluctantly agrees, largely because his high-school sweetheart, Anne Lindeman, now lives in Picketville. A prime suspect is Ralph Evans, an antigovernment local talk-radio host who declares his concern for endangered species by advertising Spotted Owl in a Can. When Smith and Anne's father-in-law, Red Lindeman, explore the scene of the crime, a sniper in a crop duster opens fire on them--a ""fly-by shooting,"" Smith calls it. Then Anne's husband, manager of the radio station, is shotgunned to death. Police chief Ward Peavy eventually charges local birdwatcher Martin York. When Smith discovers that a previous prisoner died in Peavy's jail, the big picture takes shape. Truman Smith would rather laze in his lawn chair, sipping Big Red and reading Tobacco Road, but when he gets on a case, he's methodical. So's Crider, who fashions a tight plot filled with laconic charm and idiosyncratic characters. (Aug.)