Setting off in many intriguing directions, this novel by British writer Muir never quite delivers all the rich fare she seems to promise. An elusive lost love, the problems of contemporary Liverpool, a mysterious private eye, and an elegiac evocation of family and childhood are just some of the themes and characters she introduces, skillfully explores, and then suddenly drops, ending with a bang--almost literally--that just doesn't have the required impact. When Eleanor's mother sets off for New Zealand to visit relatives, Eleanor volunteers to look after her house in Liverpool, and also after Uncle Hunt, a former alcoholic, now gravely ill. It means leaving husband Hugo in London, but, tired of Hugo's disorganization and volatility--he is always being sued or subpoenaed--she anticipates, if not divorce, at least a period of rest from him in a place where she was once happy and secure. Liverpool, once a great port and cotton mill town, is dying, and as Eleanor visits her uncle and begins to catch up with old friends, she compares the past, with its comfortable certainty, to the dismal present. Uncle Hunt, a man of much character and many adventures, has come down in the world; and in between her recollections, Eleanor tells his story as well as introducing the elusive Robin Stewart White, her uncle's best friend. As a young girl she had fallen in love with Robin, and had never quite got over it. Her uncle insists that Robin is in Liverpool, but Eleanor doesn't meet him until her uncle dies, when his years of mysterious behavior are suddenly made (unconvincingly) clear. Meanwhile, she has an affair with the odd if not perverted Eric, who claims to be a private eye employed by Hugo to follow her, but who may also be a spy. Within a page or so, all is miraculously resolved, and Eleanor goes back to London and Hugo--not rested, but a least purged. Muir is a witty and evocative writer who movingly describes the decline of Liverpool, a metaphor for the past Eleanor mourns, and there is a lot to savor here. But, unfortunately, the parts remain parts, however enjoyable.