First off, it's not a ``stranger'': it's Boston decorator Olivia Chapman's former neighbor, writer Lori Lutz. And she's got the best reason for needing a place to crash: She's finally ready to admit that her husband, one-book novelist Rob Mallory, has been knocking her around. But once Olivia takes her in, bad things start to happen. Lori, realizing just how little money or freedom Rob has left her, goes into a funk; Lori brings home mugging victim Felicity Starshine, who in turn fills the house with women yearning for self-actualization; Rob gets stabbed to death right around the time Lori just happens to be back in his house; a snooty neighbor opposed to some new low-income housing on Beacon Hill blackmails Lori, on the Lyman House board of directors, into moving the project; and James Warriner, the Kennedyesque DA who's the first man to catch Olivia's eye since her husband died, seems poised to prosecute Lori--who's shaping up to be quite the accomplished liar. Omnicompetent Olivia, in her second outing (The End of an Altruist, 1994), goes through some sharply etched bouts of doubt, fear, betrayal, and anger before sliding into the much less realistic unmasking.