A third installment in the improbable life of London's fetching, late-20-ish Alex TannerTV researcher and one-woman detective agency (In at the Deep End, 1994, etc.). Downcast by a glitch in her so-far-unconsummated affair with producer Barty O'Neill, Alex cheers up when she finds a neatly packaged dead hamster in her mail, along with a day's fee, a note containing the names of four women, a cryptic threat to smash the glass ceiling, a plea to be stopped, and the self-assigned client's signatureWomun in the Balaclava Helmet. Investigation reveals that the four women had been a feminist quartet at Oxford years ago, naming themselves the Vestal Virgins. Leona Power, first on the list, died a month ago in a car crash. The hamster, it seems, belonged to the small daughter of no-longer-feminist, second-listed Melanie Slater, whose house was recently broken into. Along the way Slater's teenage son, Teddy, hires Alex to find his long-missing father, Edward Webb. Grace Macarthy, still a feminist beacon, seems impervious to the note's implied threat; and Elspeth Driscoll, the only non-Londoner, runs a kennel and small farm in Herefordshire that's soon to be targeted by the notewriter, who leaves behind a decapitated terrier and some nasty graffiti. It all comes to a sad but klutzy climax in the august rooms of the British Museum, leaving the reader to wish that the author's murky, disjointed plotlines were on a par with her pithily drawn characters (like Alex's recently homeless, recently dumb girl assistant, Nick, a math genius) and her blithe, quicksilver writing. Worth the time just for that.
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