How nice it would be to walk into a Murdoch novel and fred something as ordinary as a philodendron right in the middle of the foyer, with nothing lurking behind it. This is minor Murdoch (with by no means the strength of her last novel, The Black Prince) dealing again with a whole set of latticed relationships between a group of characters who are not as moral as they seem or as didactic as they sometimes sound. Particularly Montague Small, a writer of detective stories, whose wife Sophie has just died after a lingering cancer (much later it will be revealed that he killed her--it was not a mercy killing). And next door at Hood House there's a rather Victorian little woman, Harriet Gavender, who attends her husband and son with devoted serenity and sometimes lovesickening sweetness. Only to learn that her husband Blaise, a psychiatrist, has for years, nine in fact, had a ""nocturnal patient""--one Emily McHugh who has borne his son. Harriet is at first ""very good"" about Blaise's confessional letter and determined to do what is right, but in a universe where the ""love machine"" operates, does the sensible world cease? Without further pursuing the meanings within meanings let alone the complex incidents to follow, may it just be said that all these self-bound, anxious, quixotic characters often trespass on our patience without incurring our sympathy in the usual clever or rather clever-clever fashion.