Listfield (Variations in the Night, 1987, etc.) sets her fourth novel in a suburb of Albany, NY, where a community is torn over whether the death of Ann Waring, killed during a quarrel with her husband Ted when his hunting rifle discharged, was an accident or a murder. At the time of Ann's death, she and Ted were beginning to reconcile their differences even as they waited for divorce papers to go through. The premise is promising but, except for the victim and her sister Sandy, Listfield's characters are puppetlike: Ted the self-made man, slow to compromise, quick to anger; his career- minded lawyer, rising on the notoriety of a murder trial; Julia, the teen-rebel daughter; and Ali, her eager-to-please sister. Central to the novel's failure to convince is the author's distaste for the defendant. Though Ted's pain and possessive love are detailed for over half the book, we never empathize with him as we do with Ann and Sandy, whose bond was forged amid the clutter- -emotional and physical--of their parents' oddball marriage. A second handicap is Listfield's patronizing attitude toward the region she's describing, which she renders as a wasteland where anyone with ambition is merely marking time. Her metaphors are often overwrought: The family's tragedy is compared to ``the single misstep that left you chained like Prometheus to Mount Caucasus, with guts to be picked over afresh each day.'' Ted's hotshot lawyer, unable to size up his client, is like ``a lover who punishes the other for what he himself no longer feels.'' A pale reminder of Rosellen Brown's Before and After, this novel is as much about acts of survival as about acts of love, about the compulsions--lawful or otherwise--that drive desperate people. Unfortunately, there are few surprises, and none of the blood-chilling suspense it takes to create a page-turner.