A phone ringing after midnight means trouble, especially in private eye Harry Stoner’s business. This time the 1:30 call is trouble, all right. A motel clerk wants somebody to pick up the loser registered as Harry Stoner who just tried to kill himself. When the real Stoner gets to the Encantada Motel, he finds his old college roommate nearly dead and too many memories still alive. It’s a suicide attempt that forces Stoner back into his own past, where a pretty woman, a brutal murder, and the bitter remnants of the sixties drug culture make Stoner’s future look rosy…like flowers on a grave.
This seventh Harry Stoner mystery (after Life's Work begins when the Cincinnati detective gets a 2:00 a.m. phone call and learns that an old friend, Lonnie "Jack'' Jackowski, has signed into a local motel under Harry's name and attempted suicide. Harry rescues Lonnie, who regains consciousness only long enough to ask Harry not to take him to the hospital. Discovering that Lonnie has a family in St. Louis, Harry asks Lonnie's wife Karen to fly out and take her husband home. Returning from the airport, they find Harry's apartment ransacked and Lonnie gone. The rest of the novel is an attempt to locate Lonnie and to discover what he was doing in Cincinnati in the first place. The tale is a lurid one but artfully told, involving junkies, pushers, teenage girls, bikers, yuppies, psychotic cops and a lot of people trying to come to terms with their pasts. Lonnie is more than just a missing person, he's a symbol of the '60s, and everyone who comes in contact with him ends up trying to justify past behavior. Although the ending is abrupt and leaves many questions unanswered, Valin's prose is spare and at times chilling, the plot is complex yet coherent, and Cincinnati emerges as a city with a vibrant and distinctive personality.