Cheshire in the '50s, before English villages succumbed to the same murder mania as Manhattan, was still a dangerous place for blond schoolgirls. Diane Thorburn, strangled on her way home to the hamlet of Salton from Maltham Secondary, turns out to be only the latest in a string of suspicious deaths stretching back all the way to the War, when Yank flier Gary Ripley presumably strangled Mary Wilson, the local lass he was sweet on, and got off scot-free because nobody could find any evidence. This time, though, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend, banished to the provinces by higher-ups who are waiting for him to make a hash of things, is convinced that there's evidence to be found, and his unlikely plan to pursue his favorite technique--settling down in Harry Poole's pub and listening to village gossip---gets two big boosts. First, he finds a young police cadet, Phil Black, who's lived in Salton all his life, and may know even more than he knows about the case; and second, the killer's determined return to the latest crime scene--the salt pile Diane Thorburn's body had been buried in--broadly hints at some incriminating evidence left behind. But what telltale clue docs the daunting pile of salt conceal? Despite a few impolitic coincidences--Salton turns out to be even more hazardous to young ladies than it seemed--Spencer's US debut provides sturdy mystery-mongering, reliably quaint suspects, and an unusually detailed list of clues. Looks like Woodend was right after all.