Needlessly cryptic psychological mystery, the third featuring Manton, Mass., school principal Ben Louis. Here, the village grapevine quickly spreads news of Ben's application for district superintendent and passes along innuendos about school psychologist Merran Shaw and his probable misbehavior with little girls. Does Ben want the job? Is Merran a pervert? These and other questions are eventually gotten around to, but only after: an accidental electrocution; a pilfered family tree; sliced car-brakes; two cases of child abuse and, undoubtedly, incest; finagled Illinois birth records; and Ben's and Merran's suspensions. Meanwhile, there are countless rehashing of events by Ben, his wife, Merran, and Merran's best friend Becca, plus tetchy interruptions by reporter/photographer Val (soon dead) and Everett, whose life's ambition is to be buried in the family plot--alas, there's no more room--with his faithful dog Clifford. Dreams, hunches, and small- town neighborliness all help Ben decide who killed whom, who was having an affair with whom, and whether or not he should leave the public-school system permanently. The attempt to deepen the plot by slowly peeling away layers seems, here, forced and artificial, and the ubiquitous quoting of Ben's wife Jane is extremely irritating. Stylistically, a sharp descent from Death of a Cloudwalker (1991).