Marcia Muller, . . Mysterious, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-89296-690-5

You can taste the fog and smell the seaweed along Highway 1 in Boucher Award-winner Muller's Soledad County—even though it's a fictional entity pasted between the real Mendocino and Humboldt Counties on California's northern coast. You can also feel the despair and frustration that hover over the area, scene of some particularly brutal murders 13 years before. Taking a break from her justly praised Sharon McCone series, Muller creates a compelling (if somewhat predictable) story of a community and its inhabitants whose faith in themselves and in each other has been poisoned by the past. Sheriff's Deputy Rhoda Swift, now in her mid-30s, was a rookie cop who made some mistakes on her first big job—investigating the shooting deaths of six adults and two children in a post-hippie commune in Cascada Canyon. After driving past a young woman standing next to her disabled sports car at the Point Deception turnout, Rho turns back to help, but a sudden emergency call takes her elsewhere. The disappearance and later murder of the stranded motorist sets off another round of violence and guilt. Guy Newberry, a successful New York–based writer of true-crime books, tries to break out of the slough of despond caused by the death of his wife by digging up the Cascada Canyon graves. He and Rho forge a touchy, believable bond, and Muller's circle of secondary characters is wide and deep, but most readers will come away from this one humming the scenery instead of the plot. (July 31)

Forecast:Lots of McCone fans should be drawn to their favorite author's first stand-alone mystery.