This is the second of Jack Vance’s mysteries about Sheriff Joe Bain cases in rural California south of San Fancisco. The previous book, The Fox Valley Murders, was technically interesting and well written, but not outstanding. Vance plotted and outlined a third book, but never wrote it.
This book differs from Fox Valley in that the mystery itself is less complex, but the characters are more interesting. Overall, they are more fully fleshed out than in the first book. But we also see the emergence of some typical Vance types – a girl (they’re almost always girls and not women) who is cool and distant and beautiful; a young man who is pompous and self-centered.
Overall, I’d say this is the better book. The characters are more human and engaging, and if the actual mystery is thinner, that’s okay. Both Joe Bain books are better than Vance’s more intriguing but less fully realized The House on Lily Street. Other books that at least vaguely qualify as real world mysteries (and are well worth reading): The View from Chickweeds Window, Bad Ronald, The Dark Ocean, Bird Isle, Take My Face.