A highly charged, deeply eroticized historical and contemporary fiction from the American-born English author of two short-story collections and the novels Trust (1988) and Rose Reason (1992). Flanagan writes about women who are impelled by the urgent, often violent emotions they conceal beneath dutiful exteriors, and who are usually disappointed by the men to whom they confide their secrets. There's an identifiable, implicit homage to Henry James in her penetrating analyses of the ways in which women think, feel, and behave differently from men. This novel begins as Celia Pippet (``a snotty middle class sourpuss''), having stolen a scandalous objet d'art from the British Museum, travels to France to learn the truth about eponymous title character Adäle Louisante--a mysterious Parisian beauty whose involvement in a scandalous love affair, 50 years earlier, had led to her even more mysterious death. Accompanied by friends who both share and mistrust her zeal, Celia investigates L'affaire Adäle, striking gold when she meets Adäle's onetime nurse Blanche Jessel (could a character's name be more Jamesian?), whose reluctant memories include her characterization of Paris between the World Wars as ``a sexual theme park.'' Flanagan's tendencies toward garish imagery and runaway melodrama are actually quite successfully concentrated in the thrillingly evoked figure of Jonas Sylvester, a proto-Nazi gynecologist who had imagined the lustrously beautiful Adäle the prototype for a scientifically created perfect race--and whose workmanlike passion for his headstrong Trilby becomes both the making and the breaking of her. Adäle is, alas, far too passive to be fully credible, and Flanagan never gets convincingly inside her mind and feelings (or, indeed, those of any of the novel's characters). Oddly enough, it scarcely matters, for almost everything else works in this expertly fashioned romantic tale. Henry James might have disapproved, but one suspects he would have devoured every page of Adäle with agreeably guilty pleasure.