What would be an ordinary case for any other lawyer--the murder of thrice- (or maybe only twice-) married Sandra Nichols- -emerges at the far side of Higgins's looking glass in dazzlingly kaleidoscopic slabs of dialogue. Judge Henry Lawler is convinced that Sandra, whose body was found months after she disappeared, was murdered by her latest ex, the wealthy, idle Peter Wade. And he tells his old classmate Jerry Kennedy, whom he wants to recruit, that it won't be easy to nail him: Chances are that Peter, who's never raised a finger in his life, didn't break his pattern this time, but hired somebody- -probably his old bud Brian Ross, a ``terminal marine'' whose own liaison with Sandra is memorialized in a ``Semper Fi'' tattoo she's wearing in a very private place. With no obvious date for the murder (Peter's prissy lawyer is objecting even to the word murder) and no likely way to place Peter at the scene, a lesser legal avenger would be hamstrung. But Kennedy, that well-known criminal attorney (Penance for Jerry Kennedy, 1985, etc.) who doesn't do civil, has agreed to take the case as a wrongful-death suit on behalf of Sandra's three children. So he doesn't have to prove Peter's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; all he has to do is prove a 51% likelihood of guilt. Tossing off dozens of Higgins's trademark anecdotes along the way about Sandra's abusive father, her spouses (including one casual bigamist), and everyone else who ever knew her, Kennedy eventually confronts his clients: Lucy, who likes to cut herself with a razor (but treats each cut with antiseptic); demurely bulimic Maggie; and Jeffrey, who gets followed from place to place by suspicious fires. The upshot is sad, sordid, unsurprising, and deeply satisfying. Like Swan Boats at Four (1995), this fabulously shaggy narrative may remind bemused newcomers of Achilles endlessly pursuing the tortoise. Fans will know exactly what to expect, and treasure it accordingly.