By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated August 20, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Lawrence is a small-town cop with the usual litany of literary small-town-cop problems: an unfriendly ex-wife, a disconnected kid, and a love of the bottle. When a 3-year-old girl is found dead, the victim of a hit-and-run, Lawrence becomes involved in both the investigation and a cover-up that, as must happen in literary small towns, tears the community apart. Michael Collins is a gifted writer?spare and elegant in his prose, unsentimental about his rough and damaged characters. When the story in Lost Souls remains focused on the protagonists, it stays on track; the mystery, however, never rises above the cliché that people, even in small towns, aren’t always what they seem.