Exquisitely wrought interpretation of the Mme. Tussaud-commemorated Ursula Trench case--in which a woman supposedly murdered her infant half-brother and, years later, her young lover. Friel begins at Ursula's death--when she interrupts a riot at Radcliffe Park to kneel, drink from a puddle, and pray, and then erupts into flames when a Molotov cocktail envelops her. Each succeeding chapter moves backward in time, so we are presented Ursula's life from last to first, bit by bit showing how the woman in flames in the park was previously a gentle recluse at a religious retreat, the Cenacle of the Lancashire Martyrs; a mental patient at the Convent of Sweet Wounds of Mother Mary; a prisoner in solitary, then in general population, then back in solitary at Holloway and Scrubs; and before that as a middle-aged and young gift at the House of Content (which later converted to the Cenacle), where she lived with her father, her stepmother, her baby brother, and her stepmother's fancy sister amidst a psychologically hideous backdrop of hatred, frustration, and emotional starvation. A chillingly plausible study of an abused personality and the penalty of sexual obsession. Told by a steady, sure British hand for a fine US debut.