Author of the four-book mass-market saga The Roundtree Women (1978-81), Lewerth returns to the historical fiction field with an outstanding treatment of social hypocrisy and social climbing in New York, circa 1880. So thoroughly mistress of the background is Lewerth that, without ever flaunting facts, she makes boisterous antebellum Gotham glitter like a gaudy paste jewel. Her tale revolves around the suicide (as history tells, but murder as the author imagines it) of abortionist and midwife Carrie Restall, just before being tried for her ""crimes."" Fate draws an unlikely collection of souls into her Fifth Avenue mansion the night before her body is found, throat slit and drained of blood in the bathtub: Ned Fitch, handsome British jump-ship desperate to better himself in America; Noel Tremont, somber daughter of a wealthy, respectable merchant, torn by shame and love for her secret ""love child,"" the product of an unhappy teen-age affair; and Mme. Ducharde, stoic French proprietress of an orphanage for the illegitimate children of New York's elite, so fearful of the secrets lodged with her friend, Mrs. Restall, that she would kill to see them kept. Noel and Ned are drawn to each other through casual encounters around Stuyvesant Square, though Noel's secret and Ned's lowly station keep them at a distance. Then, however, a fire at the Ducharde orphanage unites the lovers and provides a solution to the mystery of Mrs. Restall's death. Few false notes here--only characters with believable strengths and faults; fine satire of an age that overlooked sordidness of every kind but could not abide impurity in its upper-class ladies; an appealingly sinuous plot. In sum, a durable historical.