(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in rural Indiana south of Bloomington, much of the atmosphere of GRAVESTONE involves limestone quarries and unexplored caves. The commentary on the geology of the area is striking, and the dead bodies found in the caves and the dark underground chase scenes make for tense reading.

Deputy sheriff Marty Hopkins first gets a report of a minor brush fire, but when she investigates she finds a charred wooden cross and the dead body of a white man whose wife is African American. Marty suspects the killing may signal a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activity in the area. Worried that Marty may be in too much danger if she continues with that case, the sheriff reassigns her to investigate a claim by a local judge that someone is trying to kill him. To mystery readers it is no surprise that the cases merge and that Marty’s life is increasingly endangered.

One of the people Marty questions is cryptic Professor Wolfe, a biologist who specializes in the sightless, colorless insects and fish that live in caves. The professor waxes eloquent about the cycles of deep time that created the limestone and the caves and the cave fauna, but she will never give Marty a clear answer about what she knows of the even darker events of murder and mayhem.

Inside one cave Marty finds—in a coffin—the body of Judge Denton’s young daughter, who had disappeared many years earlier. Meanwhile, another man is murdered and a woman Marty tries to locate near Louisville has been kidnapped. The narrative switches to the woman’s captor, a madman who calls himself Night Hawk. Things become increasingly complicated, indeed quite unbelievable, but the lack of realism is largely overlooked in the accelerating pace.

Marty is a likable character, and her relationship with her wayward husband and her daughter Chrissie adds interest.