Equal parts probing character-study and taut psychological thriller, this stylish mystery from Edgar-nominee Fyfield ( A Question of Guilt ) examines the dark heart beating beneath the civilized British exterior of a desperate criminal who nearly manages the perfect murder. While recuperating from an operation in London, beleaguered Crown Prosectur Helen West is catching up on her files when a police inquiry on a closed case gives her pause. Although the cause of death of 46-year-old Margaret Carlton, a pharmacist's wife, was officially deemed natural causes, the local constable was in enough doubt to alert Helen's office. According to her husband, Mrs. Carlton had acquired ``the habit of sniffing chloroform to induce sleep and/or well-being,'' and one night she overdid it. Or did she? The constable's inquiry bothers Helen and she begins her own investigation of the chemist husband, his nubile assistant, the assistant's ex-husband and a neighborhood junkie--all vividly realized individuals. Helen's policeman paramour and partner in detection, Geoffrey Bailey, seen in Not That Kind of Place , begs her to let matters rest this time, but she cannot. As the novel races to its climax, extraordinary revelations unveil human nature at its worst. Mystery Guild selection. (Mar.)
Fyfield's well-textured prose, psychological detailing, and fully human characters once again ( Not That Kind of Place , LJ 3/1/90) form a fully satisfying English mystery. Lawyer Helen West, newly out of hospital, and Detective Chief Inspector Geoffrey Bailey become interested in the ``accidental'' chloroform poisoning death of a chemist's wife. Denizens of the chemist's London neighborhood include a policeman's estranged wife and insecure son as well as a docile but shrewd drug addict, so opportunities for psychological conflict abound. Tensions reach a snapping point with another murder, a bomb threat, and assault. Absorbing and crafted with care, this deserves attention.