Disjointed writing with a dyslexic plot render the aftermath of murder a blank in this debut novel. In Mobile, Ala., 18-year-old Laura, known as ``Duck,'' is living with her father and younger brother (who has Down's syndrome) after her mother and sister, Alexandra, have been killed. Catherine, the woman in prison waiting to go on trial for the murders, was her father's lover. Long sections following Duck are occasionally interrupted by Catherine's brief journal entries, mostly pretentious mutterings about art (Catherine is a sculptor and weaver) and tidbits that are meant to be clues to her past but are so enigmatic they add up to little. Duck seeks solace from her boyfriend, Rick, two sisters whose brother also has Down's syndrome, and housekeeper Bahalia, an African-American who comes dangerously close to Aunt Jemima territory. Although presumably all the characters here have southern accents, only Bahalia's speech is written out phonetically. (``She gone be obsatrician,'' she boasts of a daughter in medical school.) Information is hurriedly introduced, time keeps moving on, and things keep happening, but there is no sense of cause and effect here. Duck buys a gun with no qualms whatsoever, and without hinting why. Slowly, Duck realizes that her mother was a terrible snob and not a very nice person, but it only makes her seem silly for not having been more aware before the murder. Her memories of Alexandra are reverential: She gushes that, with Alexandra around, a simple bus trip ``would have been a grand adventure. Maybe they would have worn Isadora Duncan scarves and rented a limousine. Or pretended to.'' Woodward, a lawyer, has a little more luck with the courtroom scenes, but they come too late in the book to have much impact, and a ridiculous, deus ex machina resolution leaves a bitter aftertaste. A legal thriller without the thrills.