British writer Hucker's becoming a master at exploring the psyche of the independent-minded woman (A Dangerous Happiness, 1996, etc.)--and her examination here of the complex nature of female friendships produces yet another angle on the subject. Middle-aged, red-haired Polly Ferrison's friends think that she has the perfect life: two bright, attractive daughters, a challenging, satisfying job as a high-school history teacher, and a loving husband, Neville. But as it turns out, of course, appearances lie: Neville is actually a selfish, demanding, greedy, adulterous creep who's been conducting a sporadic 20-year fling with one of Polly's supposed best friends, Vanessa. Worse, he's in love with another woman (now pregnant by him), whom he wants to marry. A breakup with Polly is inevitable. When her four best friends from college--the vampy Vanessa, wealthy Candida, farmwife Mary, and career-woman Jane--hear the news, they're sympathetic (except for Vanessa, who's enraged that Neville hasn't chosen her), but they've all got troubles of their own: Candida married for money and is now in love with another man; Mary has a husband and children of her own, but Vanessa relies on her so much that it's almost as if she has another extra-needy charge. And driven Jane has finally met the man of her dreams, but she'll have to give up her career and move to Poland if she wants to stay together with him. At the story's opening, the surfaces of these women's lives haven't yet cracked, but circumstances soon plunge all four into a turmoil that teaches them, to varying degrees, that sometimes friendship is the only thing you can count on. The larger point, however, is that the modern woman has enough options, so that any choices she makes can be the right ones--if she believes in her own self-worth. A slight but ultimately satisfying read, less syrupy than much of this genre.