Hegarty, better known under her pseudonym of Frances Fyfield (A Question of Guilt, 1989, etc.), shows in clinical detail how an apparently model husband and father could kill his young daughter by slow abuse, all without interference from his wife or anyone else. After a gratuitously harrowing prologue snapshot of four-year-old Jeanetta Allendale in extremis, starving to death in her locked playroom, the novel goes back to show the seeds of discord in her charming architect father David's lavish devotion to his son Jeremy and his complete ascendancy over his fragile, childlike, conflict- shunning wife Katherine--he cleans their house obsessively, picks out all her clothes (and discards whatever she buys on her own), pinches her pin-money from her purse, and monitors her relations with her London world so closely that it's a snap to pry her loose from her job, her neighbors, and finally Jeanetta (whom he's convinced isn't his child anyway, she's so big and blond and irrepressible). Katherine's tragically porous support system--her sister Mary (who inherited Katherine's last lover), her mother-in-law Sophie (herself the victim of an abusive husband, naturally), Jeanetta's kindly but rough-hewn nanny Eileen Harrison, her friends Jenny, Susan, and Monica, and frustrated social-worker John Mills--all share, whatever their own vices, a foolish innocence, an exasperating openness to deception that recalls Ruth Rendell at her cruelest. But the woolliness of the principals' self-absorbed monologues--a far cry from the arrowlike trajectory of Rendell's Judgment in Stone--imparts a distinctively realistic edge of horror to this desperately depressing story. Nobody will finish this painful novel unmoved. Many readers, though, won't be able to finish it at all.