Four siblings are thrown on their own considerable resources when they're unexpectedly orphaned in this spooky, consolatory fable from veteran tale-spinner Wilhelm (Malice Prepense, 1996, etc.). All their young lives, the McNair children have followed their father Warden, a structural engineer, from one exotic posting to another. But when Kevin, the oldest, threatens to run away if the family doesn't settle down, his parents buy a century-old house outside Portland, Ore., and prepare to put down roots. The roots may be deep, but they're not going to be wide, since Lee McNair, a former street kid who was rescued when Warden stayed in the hotel room she was cleaning, doesn't trust outsiders and all but chases the neighbors off with a broom. When Warden's killed at work, Lee is inconsolable in more ways than one, and her children, who've never made any friends in school, are left alone in their grief. Their isolation, though, is only a prelude to the ordeal that follows their discovery of Lee's body in the mud under their apple tree. Fearing that they'll be farmed out to separate foster homes if they report their mother's death to the authorities, the children contrive to keep it a secret, burying her in the garden, fending off the neighbors' few inquiries about Lee, and plotting their own futures. Truculent Kevin, 15, falls in love with computers; straight-A Amy, 14, is a budding marine biologist; awkward Liz, 11, takes up the violin and storytelling; and Brian, 6, remains haunted by the mother he insists has never left--and who he insists doesn't want him to leave either. Years pass, and the children, guided toward adulthood by Wilhelm's uncommon delicacy about their adolescent hopes and fears, all make plans to follow their stars--except for Brian, whose deepening silence brings about the catastrophe that finally lays his unquiet mother to rest. Sensitive, moving, and gently haunting story about the two younger McNairs and their special kinship.