Bestselling George, in a ninth outing, takes on race relations in the moribund Essex resort of Balford-le-Nez. Melancholic Sgt. Barbara Havers, convalescing after the violence of In the Presence of the Enemy (1996), repairs to this seaside town when her sympathetic Pakistani neighbor at home, Taymullah Azhar, is called to Balford-le-Nez to assist with a crisis--a "small family matter," he says, following the murder of an affluent immigrant about to marry into the even more affluent Maliks of Malik's Mustards & Assorted Accompaniments. Discovering that an old mate, the high-powered Emily "Beast" Barlow, is in charge of the case, Barbara volunteers her way into a liaison position when contentious Muhannad Malik, son of conservative corporate patriarch Akram, charges police prejudice and demands day-by-day accountability. Fired by a hotter English summer than any recently recorded, several plot ingredients simmer: daughter Sahlah Malik's Romeo-and-Juliet relationship with developer Theo Shaw, grandson of wealthy bigot Agatha Shaw; Sahlah's Juliet-and-Juliet relationship with a scheming shopgirl; and the Romeo-and-Romeo relationship of Haytham Querashi, Sahlah's murdered fiance, with the boyfriend of his hired contractor. Though George manages to include a sea chase with her customary scenes of angst and accusation, she concludes the case with oddly scant reference to some important individuals--among others, Sahlah. A vital issue is badly served by moralizing, predictable characterizing, Anglo-Saxon attitudizing (so much slang), and preoccupation with the weather (so much sweat). Ruth Rendell, in 1995's Simisola, explored the complexities of racial prejudice with less pretension and greater finesse.