Murder-mystery and a teen-age lad's coming-of-age are deftly combined in this attractive first novel--set in the English-seaside town of Ventnor in the summer of 1860, a time when the vacation population included quite a few Russian travelers and expatriates (including none other than Ivan Turgenev). The most high-strung of the Russian visitors is penniless, actressy young Masha, now pregnant and begging help from every man in town--including her many ex-lovers: decadent Count Rostopchine; the Count's valet Fedya; and widower Captain Fenton, chairman of the Ventnor Watch Committee. So when Masha turns up drowned and dead, there are plenty of likely murder suspects. But, since the town is eager to declare the death a suicide, the primary sleuthing falls to an odd pair of new chums: 16-year-old Guy Seddenham, awkward and lonely, his libido stirred by Masha's vamping; and young Russian doctor Bazarov, a good-hearted eccentric. They uncover the web of motives behind the killing (most obvious, some not)--and one of them will die in the ensuing sequence of scenic showdowns and chases. Freeborn tries to pack too much into this debut: subplots involving Russian antiTsarist politics of the period add little but dense distraction; the cameo appearance by Turgenev--who'll use the doctor's name in Fathers and Sons, of course--verges on the cutesy. But the English folk are well-sketched (especially Guy's prim, snobbish aunt); and though the mystery is humdrum, it's a sturdy vehicle for an engaging blend of period atmosphere, Hardy-esque melodrama, and Dickensian sentiment-with-humor.