One priceless lot to be sold at a closed auction, six high-rolling bidders, one million nefarious dodges: a second adventure for antique dealer Kay Williams (The Time of the Cricket, 1995). The prize is a Bowie knife reputed to have belonged to Jim Bowie himself, taken from his body at the Alamo and preserved by the same Mexican family for over 150 years. New Orleans oilman Billy Boy Watkins, determined to make "Old Bowie" the prize of his knife collection, is paying Kay big bucks to act as his agent. But she's up against some stiff competition. Although Secret Service counterfeiting investigator Roy Scanner can't be counted a serious competitor, catty San Francisco antiquer Melanie Wadsworth, wealthy Long Island collector Arthur Ward, Japanese insurance mogul Kazuo Goto, and Leon Donin, from Moscow's Koska Museum, are all as determined as Billy Boy to own the fabled weapon. And some aren't very fussy about the tactics theyþll use to narrow the field of bidders. Donin's gone so far as to hire as his bodyguard Bud Wolf, a homegrown hit man, who has designs on the knife himself, and Kay's impecunious ex, Phil, has turned up in Austin with his thuggish Jamaican partner to grab whatever spare cash he can find lying around. All the bidders have different weaknessesþthe counterfeiting subplot is especially well-turnedþand except for Kay they're all willing to use sex or intimidation or violence or whatever else works to bully or trick each other into retiring from the fray. By introducing and killing off subsidiary characters, Blankenship manages, ingeniously and often miraculously, to bring his story to a boil while keeping all six bidders alive for the auction (thougha shootout goes on a mite too long), but it wouldn't pay to sell any insurance once the bidding starts. Nimble variations on a predictable suspense formula. Few readers will be fooled by the wiles of the treacherous knife-hunters, but most will get their money's worth, which is more than you can say of the characters.