Tuesday, July 12, 2016

John Billheimer, Dismal Mountain

John Billheimer, Dismal Mountain: An Owen Allison Mystery
The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press, 2001 (reprinted 2014)
ISBN 978-1-932325-43-0

"Failure analyst" Owen Allison has returned to West Virginia (from California) because his mother is about to undergo an operation and then, probably, chemotherapy.  He almost immediately becomes involved  in the facts surrounding the upcoming trial or his Aunt Lizzie on a charge of Murder, to which she has confessed; Lizzie runs the only hospice in the county, as well. 

Meanwhile, the president of the local hospital is pressuring the hospital's chief financial officer to bill for services not provided (to make up for the revenue shortfall that has occurred because he loaned the hospital's reserves to a company that is building a shopping center).  The construction of the shopping center involves leveling the top of a mountain and dumping the resulting debris in a hollow (valley), which has ruined several people's homes and wells.  (The murder charge stems from Lizzie's attempts to stop the dumping. 

Owen runs into his high school flame (nearly 20 years ago), Kate O'Malley, now Sister Mary Perpetua and the head of the medical staff at the hospital).  The state senator for the area is campaigning for re-election, and it's not clear where he stands on a number of issues.  Owen persuades his ex-wife to come to WV from CA to assist in Lizzie's defense (and, subsequently, to help some of the people damaged by the construction project). 

Billheimer pretty much nails WV politics and economics, and Owen' role in unravelling the mysteries is plausible (given his background).  The local sheriff is a finely drawn character as well.  In fact, except for a somewhat implausible escape from an abandoned mine, everything is exceptionally well done. 

This is #3 in the 5 book series (following Contrary Blues and Highway Robbery).  I'm looking forward to reading the final two (Drybone Hollow and Stonewall Jackson's Elbow).  The first 3 books are still in print, from The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press, and the final two are easily found from used booksellers.  A fine series.

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