"I'm saying that maybe you see the devil in the dregs, when sometimes all they turn out to be are just the dregs."

When fragments of a female skeleton with a bullet hole in the skull are discovered at a small-town construction site, Police Chief "Big Ray" Elmore must investigate leads that affect not only people he's known his entire life but also many that infringe upon the jurisdiction of his law-enforcement nemesis, Sheriff Cecil Ben Cooper. If that weren't enough to keep Ray busy, a freshly decaying body is found in the rundown home of two oddball brothers who spent their lives estranged from the community. That body also has a bullet hole that matches the caliber of the first victim's fatal wound dealt fifteen years before.

This second volume of a series about Big Ray Elmore hits the ground running with its unabashed down-home plot and stellar character development. Big Ray is no stereotypical Southern cop. Elmore handles life in tiny Split Tree, Arkansas, with a realistic emotional repertoire seasoned by his all too recent and difficult WWII experience. He's also the worried but supportive husband of a loving but emotionally handicapped wife plagued by "spells."

Holland employs a deft touch with all his characters, gracing both protagonists, antagonists, and a supporting cast with multidimensional personalities and real-life complications. These drive the twists and turns of a whodunit plot that could otherwise be dull under the hand of a less meticulous and imaginative writer. The author's portrayal of rural Arkansas during the forties through the early sixties is also outstanding, and it's no surprise that his bio reveals he was raised in the state. Holland also brings authenticity to the story as a forensic anthropologist and crime laboratory director associated with the U.S. Department of Defense and as an advisor to national and international commissions. This novel transcends its genre, merging police procedural, murder mystery, and psychological thriller.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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