A gleeful, lightly satirical, behind-the-escritoire look at the English antiques trade--with a coo or two about the decline of ancient aristocratic families and their impoverished stately homes. Lady Evelyn de Boissy, at 80, is the mistress of Thawle, a mighty hall crammed with goodies. As Magnolia Tree, a local cream-bun-eating dealer (theatre programs and postcards) puts it: ""That barn of a place is stacked with Chinese armorial, goose tureens, jade, silver, pictures, you name it, the lot . . . if they're so broke why don't they flog that armorial and all those paintings!"" But Lady Evelyn's adoring 42-year-old son and heir, dim and dutiful Guy, has other ideas about How to Avoid Probate: he busily paints abstracts over old masters, coats objets d'art, buries silver and other treasures under a walnut tree, and (at his mother's direction) presents a matchless FabergÃ‰ to dealer Reggie Thring in exchange for a sympathetic valuation. And looking on and quietly aiding in all this is Irene Blane, daughter of a prostitute who claimed to be the bastard child of Lady Evelyn's conveniently profligate late husband; would-be blueblood Irene, a reader of romantic novels, will eventually lure Guy to her thin and eager bosom-and a son will be born, which helps Guy out of mad grief when his mother dies. Finally, then, to protect the baby's inheritance, he attempts to burn down Thawle. . . while, during the viewing and auctioning of all that Guy couldn't plow under, the local and London antique-dealer rings conduct their intricate plots, even descending to violence (tires are slashed, and a treasured carousel horse is threatened with a saw). Plenty of tangy Portobellostyle palaver and epithet, much solid antique info, and great wit and style throughout--an odd bit of great fun from a writer little heard from since her very promising debut, The Cats of Benares, over ten years ago.