A diverting mixture of murder mystery, character study, and social comedy from the enduringly popular British author of TV's Rumpole of the Bailey and also such novels as Dunster (1993) and Paradise Postponed (1986). Felix Morsom, a genteel and critically respected novelist known as ``the Chekhov of Coldsands'' (and, just possibly, suggested by the real-life figure of William Trevor?), finds his quiet life radically overturned when during a book signing he's confronted by a woman who declares him the father of her 11-year- old son. When Felix and a friend of the putative mother are overheard exchanging threats, and the latter is soon thereafter found bludgeoned to death (or so it seems), Felix goes into hiding among a memorably seedy array of homeless vagrants, is later captured and brought to trial--and changed in ways he couldn't possibly have foreseen when the mystery is at last solved and the verdict delivered. Mortimer populates this breezy and ever-so- slightly superficial story with a number of crucially involved and vividly sketched supporting characters, including Felix's lissome publicist Brenda Bodkin, the trashy lady novelist Sandra Tantamount, whose heavy-breathing bestsellers keep Felix's publisher's (Llama Books) afloat, a married bisexual publisher's rep, a genial rent boy who goes by the street name ``Yorkie Bar,'' and Felix's solicitor (not to mention Yorkie's), the not altogether trustworthy Septimus Roache. The novel is further graced by several wonderfully convincing scenes set in London's dÇclassÇ ``underworld,'' and by some delicious mockery of the byzantine intrigue that dominates the literary life (Llama Books, for example, is thrilled at the prospect of marketing one of its authors as ``a suspected murderer begging in the street''). Mortimer ties up all these loose ends expertly, and ends on a surprisingly effective sentimental note. Top-drawer escapist fare, from one of the most dependable entertainers in the business.