A dead author turns out to be anything but the blandly successful public figure he’d pretended to be for 40 years, in Ruth Rendell’s ninth as Barbara Vine—a slow-moving, richly textured suspenser. Even as Gerald Candless was making a comfortable living from a long series of novels that reviewers praised as wise and humane, his private life told another story. His loyal wife Ursula, civilly estranged from any intimacy with him ever since the birth of their daughter Hope, deals with his sudden death by snipping the stamps from his voluminous correspondence and discarding the envelopes, then going back to work as a day-care provider. The daughters Gerald was so close to--the obituary they compose describes him as “adored”--are more properly grief-stricken. But when older daughter Sarah agrees to take time from her women’s studies research at the University of London to write a biography of her father, her tears swiftly turn to astonishment that everything he told his family about his early life was false. In the face of the chronicle of his early years that Sarah and Hope had dutifully recycled for his obituary, Gerald Candless hadn’t existed before 1951, when an enterprising young journalist decided to swap his identity for that of a child long dead of meningitis. What made Gerald Candless’s identity so attractive to the young man who went on to reinvent himself in a score of tantalizingly veiled novels--or what made the identity he fled so unbearable? Vine’s many fans will take it as no more than their due to find that Gerald’s mystery is wrapped around a forgotten murder, but even they may be surprised to learn what role Gerald played in the killing. Not at the level of The Brimstone Wedding (1996), this latest excursion into the harrowing past shows Vine at her most weblike, with the murder case that Sarah Candless backs into almost an afterthought in a novel whose people--right up to the final merciful release--all seem long dead, dying, or hopelessly immured in the past.