The author of three mysteries (The Emerald Lizard, 1990, etc.) and coauthor of a TV documentary on David Duke, Wiltz was inspired by the 1980 shooting of a white New Orleans policeman and its bloody aftermath to focus on the issue of race relations in her city--resulting in a gripping, thought-provoking drama that begins with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: ``As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.'' Thea Tamborella is not sure she wants the inheritance her Aunt Althea has thrust upon her: a Garden District mansion on the all- white end of Convent Street. The house harbors painful memories for Thea, who was forced to live there after her parents, grocers on the wrong side of town, were shot to death by a robber. Pushed into an exclusive private school, expected to take her place in New Orleans society, teenaged Thea waited out her Convent Street sentence until she was old enough to flee to the East Coast. Returning ten years later, she finds little changed, but everything made more so: Delzora Monroe, her aunt's housekeeper and once Thea's closest friend, still dusts the furniture but is perhaps a little more surly; her son, Burgess, once Thea's playmate, still charms with his smile but makes his living now as a drug dealer; Thea's high-school boyfriend, Bobby, is as ineffectual a rich boy as ever; while Sandy and Lyle Hindemann, once the golden society couple, have created a beautiful home and family, only to live in utter terror of the black ``mobs'' across St. Charles Avenue. As Thea renovates her house, she finds herself swept up again in the city's reciprocal fear, suspicion, and resentment, until the hair- trigger inter-racial tensions are tripped once again and men on both sides of the avenue take up arms. Never pedantic, always fair: Wiltz's message is that fear--and guns--are the enemy, and the choice is to not kill or be killed. A calm, quiet voice that deserves to be heard.