Barnard (Death of a Mystery Writer) seems to have found his niche--the traditional British mystery wedded to ruthless book-world satire--and this second example of the mini-genre is another triumph. Long-dead Walter Machin, a North-of-England factory foreman who wrote working-class novels, is in for a lucrative literary revival, spearheaded by an unappetizing American academic, Dwight Kronweiser, and by Machin's second wife Viola, now in her 70s, still voluptuous and viciously self-centered. Then, however, the Machin house (which is shared by Viola and Machin's first wife Hilda) suffers a fire that destroys Machin's papers, along with poor Hilda--and Hilda's chum, young schoolteacher Greg Hocking, doesn't believe it was an accident. So Hocking begins a search into Machin's life, talking to: Machin's daughter Rose; greedy stepson Desmond; Machin's publisher; ancient co-workers; even Viola's first husband Gerald, a retired English professor-writer. And all this sleuthing does indeed come up with a compelling motive for the fire and the murder. Still, the solid mystery-making is almost secondary here--to Barnard's scathing send-ups of literary-world pretensions and his incisive character studies, unsparing and funny, yet always edged with compassion. Thoroughly satisfying work from an increasingly commanding figure on the detection scene.