Why is somebody shooting Walter Clive's horses at Three Fillies Stables in Lamarr, Georgia? That's what toothy, patrician Walter wants the droll, hulking Boston detective Spenser to find out. Walter worries that his racetrack phenomenon Hugger Mugger, worth millions, is next. So Spenser goes south to a place where "the heat felt like it could be cut into squares and used to build a wall," as he puts it in the crisp Chandleresque lingo that made him famous in dozens of novels.
The Clive clan is one weird bunch. Take Walter's daughters, his three "fillies." Penny is like her dad, all impeccable looks and icy efficiency. Stonie and SueSue take after their sinister mom, who left the family to live with a guitarist in San Francisco and changed her name to Sherry Lark. Penny helps Dad run the business, while her soused sisters cheat on their pathetic husbands, Cord and Pud. (Pud's short for Puddle; his dad was named Poole.) As unsightly family secrets spill, Spenser feels like he's in a Tennessee Williams play. Then someone on two legs takes a bullet, and the mystery gets tense. Spenser gets plenty of sarcastic mileage out of upper-class horse-country twits, crooked security guards, dumb jocks gone to seed, and wily Southern lawyers, and the story saunters well. What's best are the endless wisecracks, the unflattering thumbnail character sketches, and sharp sentences like this one: "Like all jockeys, he was about the size of a ham sandwich, except for his hands, which appeared to be those of a stonemason." --Tim Appelo