For almost a decade British writer Cornwell has been fascinated by the 1975 suicide/murder deaths of the Luxtons: 68-year-old Frances and her younger brothers Robbie and Allan--the reclusive, unmarried, hard-working owners of an ancestral farm (going back to the 14th century) in Devon. In the first section of this small, effective book, Cornwell records his 1970s inquiries in the area--burrowings through old family papers, the conflicting opinions of those who knew the Luxtons. Some say they were mean, snobbish, fanatical in their insistence on old-fashioned farming methods (even making their own paint and furniture). Others speak of Alan's mental illnesses--or hint at incest between Frances and Robbie. A few suggest that the killings stemmed from Alan's hatred of possessive, sour Robbie--who long ago ruined Alan's wedding plans. And all agree that Robbie and Frances were deeply depressed in recent months, having decided to sell the farm and move elsewhere. Then, in ""A Family History,"" Cornwell sketches in the background for these unhappy lives: Britain's late-I9th-century agricultural depression, which gave Lawrence Luxton (father of Frances et al.) an obsession with farming self-sufficiency; Frances' youth, devoted to the care of her brothers and parents, ""two self-centered invalids""; her failed bids for a life beyond Devon. And finally, after a brief report on the inquest findings (Alan killed himself, then Robbie killed both self and sister), Cornwell tells of a 1981 return to the farm--for more insights into depression and suicide in the seemingly serene English countryside. Unpretentious, varied in its angles (psychological, social, historical), and free of all sensationalism: a quiet mosaic that adds up to a compassionate, disturbing evocation of family-misery and the decay of rural British traditions.