Murder most foul in a peaceful English village, starring two determined lesbians and a bubbling septic tank--a wry, seriocomic short novel from the author of Squeak (1984) and The McGuffin (1985). In 1974, Janet Hallas, 37, and her young lover, Susan Burt, are living out the dream of many of their contemporaries in a bucolic village in the Cotswolds: they run a successful gift-shop mail-order business, grow their own vegetables, make their own butter, travel to crafts fairs, etc.--a nice, faintly hippyish existence surrounded by charming and surprisingly accepting villagers. All changes, though, when Susan has an early mid-life crisis and heads off to Crete to find herself, and a jealous Janet makes her first (and last) love with a male whom she meets at a fair--a lonely young carver of musical instruments named Alan. Sure enough, nine months later the coyly named Butch is born. By this time, Susan and Janet have reconciled, with Susan throwing herself wholeheartedly into parenting. Then, when Alan wanders into the village and discovers he has a son, Susan--certain he'll cause trouble--bashes him over the head with a butter pat and dumps him into the septic tank. And what a septic tank it is: Bowen spends pages lovingly describing its burbly, bubbling, rank and odorous contents. There are many funny false alarms as Alan decomposes, but the real crisis comes when his old partner, Bob, shows up looking for him and is nearly killed by a crazed Susan, who is quite certain Alan has risen from the muck to avenge himself on her. By the close, though, all three--not to mention Butch--work out their problems peaceably, if a little unrealistically. Not quite sure what it wants to be--a mildly Hitchcockian murder mystery or something more serious--this is a novel nearly always amusing while it's making up its mind.