A bristling thriller pastiche from the surrealistic novelist (Rushing to Paradise, 1995, etc.) and peripatetic social observer (A User’s Guide to the Millennium, 1996). Travel writer Charles Prentice, who seems to be carrying a lot of Ballard’s baggage, is a man on a mission: to get his brother Frank out of a Costa del Sol prison. It won’t be an easy job, since Frank, who managed the wildly successful Club Nautico, has already confessed to setting the fire that burned down the Hollinger home, with three family members and two hangers-on inside. Every question Charles asks the locals—foreign nationals, most of them, who’ve come to regard the paradisiacal resort as much better than home—makes him more suspicious of Frank’s confession. Where would Frank have gotten the mixture of petrol and ether that was used to start the fire, and how did he know how to introduce it into Hollinger’s air-conditioning system? Why was Hollinger in bed with the pregnant Swedish maid, and his wife Alice the same with longtime secretary Roger Sansom, when the fire broke out? In fact, since an enormous party was clearly in progress at the time of the fire, why did no one in attendance make a move to rescue any of the victims? And if Frank wasn’t responsible, why has he confessed—and then refused to see the brother who’s convinced he’s innocent? Classic mystery questions, all, but knowing readers who can see that Ballard is less interested in solving the mystery than in using it as a parable of the modern social contract won’t be surprised when Charles, instead of closing in on the solution, finds himself insensibly sliding into the comfy, doomed place his brother has vacated. For all Ballard’s air of jaunty abstraction—his tawdry comedie humaine seems to be viewed through the wrong end of a telescope—his prophetic eye for the ties that bind is as sharp and unsparing as ever.