Stella Carway's dying words to whoever killed her (``I thought you loved me'') are no help in narrowing down the suspects, since, before she was stunned, strangled, and arranged in her flat with the ends of the murder weapon tied in a neat bow around her neck, Stella seems to have been on intimate terms with half the district, from suave Conservative councillor John Faulkner to car repairman Rodney Watson, her bit of rough, and gardener Rory James, the nearest available male. None of which endeared her to her husband, Steven, who'd been moving slowly on his divorce, despite the prenuptial agreement he'd salted away against his own inveterate philandering, or to any of the vengeful women she left in her wake. When news-seller Susan Ratcliffe, whom one of those aggrieved women rather implausibly identified as having gotten into Stella's car on the last day of her life, does a bunk, stolid Chief Inspector Jim Ashworth, already on the track of ú200,000 in blackmail payments Stella wormed out of her husband, has still another trail to follow. But it looks as if his right-hand man, Sgt. Owen Turner, working on the hypothesis of Steven's guilt, will come up trumps, despite being haunted by family problems of his own. Though the solution to the crime is both obvious and underclued, Battison shines in tying his all-too-human coppers' problems to the investigation, producing an uncommonly seasoned and rewarding first novel. The only problem: What room does his ending leave for the sequel Jim Ashworth deserves?