Clarke's This Downhill Path (1977) offered slim but distinct evidence of a special, offbeat knack for literary-world suspense, and this period piece confirms that promise with panache. It's 1882, and novelist George Meredith, adviser-reader for publishers Chapman & Hall (he really was) has at last gotten a readable manuscript--it's ""a new Jane Eyre"" and eminently publishable. Except. Meredith and others suspect that the gripping tale--a governess falls in love with her employer, he frightens his invalid wife to death--is a factual first-person narrative. ""We cannot publish for all the world to read a true account of a presumably undetected murder."" Alternating between the civilized clumsiness of the publishing house and the wrenching conflicts of the fledgling authoress (love, fear, ambition), Clarke keeps action and atmosphere in perfect balance. And there's a marvelously ironic literary-criminal twist at the end--the icing on a not-too-sweet, not-too-moist Victorian plumcake.