What price motherhood? That's the question George ponders in the sixth (For the Sake of Elena, 1992, etc.) of her multipeopled, slow-paced endeavors. Here, Simon Allcourt St. James and his chronically miscarrying wife Deborah are looking forward to a respite from the adoption question with a visit to Winslough and its vicar, Robin Sage--but Sage is dead, an apparent accident caused when aloof, mysterious herbalist Juliet Spence mistook water hemlock for wild parsnip and served it for dinner. Not bloody likely, thinks Simon, and calls in aristocratic Tommy Lynley of New Scotland Yard. Lynley not only reopens the case but takes local constable, Colin Shepherd, Juliet's lover, to task for mishandling it from the start. Was Juliet only trying to protect her 13-year- old daughter, Maggie, from Sage's inappropriate advances? Did Sage know the identity of Maggie's father, a shadowy figure Juliet has refused to talk about? Sage himself had a few secrets, including an infant son who was a cot-death fatality and a wife who leapt off a ferry and was eventually declared dead. As St. James, Lynley, and feisty Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers track Sage's last days, the constable searches for a scapegoat. The facts, however, inexorably lead back to his own lover--and the depths a mother will go to in order to deal with the loss of her child. A lesser George--with polarized characters too often engaged in lengthy, numbing speechifying (though young Maggie's school chums are a lively bunch) and with Lynley and Havers bypassed for most of the book (a likely disappointment for their fans). Still, fewer than usual over-the-top descriptive passages are a welcome relief.