Ruth Rendell's fourth novel as Barbara Vine (A Dark Adapted-Eye, A Fatal Inversion, The House of Stairs) marks a departure from the formula of the first three: the years-after story of a past mystery obligatory for Vine is intertwined with the story of a present-day crime. The story moves back and forth between two narratives: the first-person account of thickheaded, pitiable Joe Herbert, saved from suicide by enigmatic Sander Wincanton, who adopts adoringly grateful Joe as his gallowglass (a servant dedicated to protecting his master's life) in his scheme to kidnap wealthy, frightened Nina Abbott; and the third-person account of another gallowglass, Paul Garnet, the bodyguard hired by Nina's overprotective husband. Sander, it seems, had once been part of a gang that kidnapped Nina in Italy years ago, but something (what was it?) went wrong, and now he wants to try again with the help of Joe and Joe's flaky foster-sister Tilly--a typically lethal case of folie Ã trois. When Paul refuses an enormous bribe to cooperate with the gang, they kidnap his little girl Jessica and offer a swap, unaware that he's fallen in love with Nina. As usual in Vine, awakening love speaks with the voice of doom--but this time the climax, though carefully prepared, is both more surprising and less satisfyingly inevitable than expected. Not entirely successful as either mystery or psychological study--the characters muffle themselves and retreat just when their pain should be sharpest--but still a powerfully imagined nightmare of devotion gone haywire.