After Matthew Hope (Mary, Mary, 1993, etc.) is critically shot in the opening sentences, his extended Florida family -- his PI Warren Chambers, Chambers's own op Toots Kiley, and Calusa police detective Morris Bloom -- retrace his steps for the last few days before the shooting looking for clues, and find that Hope's last client had been George Steadman, eager to acquire a 30-acre parcel to use as winter quarters for his circus. No big deal, except that the parcel's tied up in litigation between speculator John Rafferty and his creditor Andrew Byrd that had sent Hope back to the three-year-old murder of circus midget Willa Torrance, a.k.a. Wee Willa Winkle. Willa's daughter Maria, a bald wigmaker, swears that her mother was killed by animal trainer Davey Shedd, Maria's first lover. But leaping back and forth and back among three time frames -- the inquiry into Hope's shooting, Hope's own investigations (often eerily similar, right down to the same questions to the same suspects in the same order), and the events leading up to Willa's death (events themselves looping back to her daughter's birth 20 years before) -- McBain steadily unrolls a tapestry of adultery, jealousy, and revenge. Amazingly, all the mind-boggling complexities are kept perfectly clear, thanks to McBain's unsurpassed mastery of exposition, and the story's still gaining in force when the curtain finally thunders down. Only McBain, whose bench is the strongest in the league, could get away with building one of the best Hope novels around Hope's absence. It's a rare pleasure seeing such an old pro still taking the kind of chances that would sink a writer with less nerve.