Jack Vance was a genius in the SFF field, but he also wrote mysteries, including two books about Sheriff Joe Bain. This first one introduces the setting and Bain himself, a ne’er-do-well who’s found himself as a lawman. After a convicted killer gets out on parole, things start to go wrong, and it’s up to Bain to figure it all out before the upcoming local elections.
Bain is a likable character, and the mystery is well constructed. It’s fair, with clues provided and several people to suspect. The resolution is satisfying, though there’s a strange little unneeded coda to wrap up loose ends.
All the same, the story falls a bit flat, in the end. The mystery genre just doesn’t give Vance a chance to bring out his quirky, eerie nature, nor the extravagant language that makes him so great. It does mean that the characters are more natural and fully drawn than the Vancian norm, but it’s not a fair trade.
If you’re looking for a good, logical mystery with some intriguing human nature, this is a good read. If you’re looking for another side of Vance, this is it. But if you’re looking for the classic Vance you know from his best known books, you may be a little disappointed.