Dan Moldea doesn't get cute in this tough, resourceful, intelligent book. Not only does he report at the outset the details of the murder three years ago of Dean Milo, a 41-year-old businessman in the Ohio township of Bath, a prosperous suburb of Akron; he also leaves little doubt that ultimate responsibility for the murder rests with Milo's younger brother, Fred--in the process apparently robbing his story of its narrative tension.

Apparently, but certainly not actually. In "The Hunting of Cain," Moldea is after bigger game than the mere question of whodunit. This meticulously researched book is about the unfolding of a criminal investigation, and about the freaky consequences of coincidence and accident in the lives of human beings. It is not an especially reflective book, and Moldea doesn't hammer the reader over the head with the conclusions that can be drawn from it; but this reticence is one of the book's greatest strengths, and it stands in revealing contrast to the breathless tone in which many nonfiction crime stories are told these days.

When police first discovered Milo's body, they thought they had "just another suburban killing" on their hands--though even then their suspicions were aroused because Milo was wearing his undershorts, which were on backward, and because there were bits of cotton "on Milo's mouth and around his body." But the more deeply investigators dug into the case, the more complicated and atypical they came to see it as being.

There was, to begin with, the situation at Milo Barber and Beauty Supply Co., the family business that Dean Milo had rapidly built into "the largest wholesaler of barber and beauty supplies in the country"; the success of the company had caused traumatic rivalries within the Milo family, and the possibility that these had led to Milo's death could not be dismissed. Nor, because of uncertainty about where Milo had gotten the funds to finance the expansion of his company, could investigators dismiss the possibility of mob involvement, which "had haunted the police from the outset of the Milo murder investigation."

Not only did the case become more difficult--and challenging--as investigators immersed themselves in it; it also became more colorful, sordid and pathetic. The color was provided by one William C. Dear, a private investigator from Texas who had been hired by Milo's widow and who poured himself into the investigation with a tireless determination that eventually almost destroyed him. The sordid aspects came with several small-time underworld types who were in and out of suspicion as being involved in Milo's contract killing. And the pathetic took the form of a young lawyer, Barry Boyd, whose dedication to Fred Milo led him to follow an incredibly stupid course of action.

As Moldea's tale reaches its bizarre climax and denouement, we come to realize that the murder of Dean Milo should never have taken place--for reasons that Moldea himself must be left free to describe in his careful and far from humorless style. But the murder did happen, and the judgment of the prosecuting attorney is correct:

"Fred Milo thought his problems would be over if Dean was removed from the scene. Instead, his problems had just begun. But even in the wake of this heinous crime and all this poor family has been through, there is no apparent remorse, no moves for conciliation. There was no middle ground at all, only more bitterness, more hatred, and more battlegrounds. It was this same attitude that cost this family the lives of two brothers--the one who is dead and the one who is now in prison."

In Moldea's telling of this tale, there is only one important weakness: Dean Milo never fully emerges as a character, and the reasons some people disliked him personally--quite apart from wanting to gain control of his business--are far from clear. But except for that, and an occasional lapse into foreshadowing ("Unknown to them, that break was just a few days off"), "The Hunting of Cain" is an impeccable job of research and storytelling. On a deeper level, it is a tale of the blindness that greed and envy can cause, and the terrible price people pay when this blindness takes control of them.