A passionately schematic moral anatomy of a murder. Gordimer's (None to Accompany Me, 1994, etc.) resolutely small cast of characters embodies uncomfortable social truths about contemporary South Africa--truths challenged in the course of the novel, which finally seems more universal than local. ``This is not a detective story,'' declares the writer quite early, but rather an opportunity to explore complex human contradictions regarding race, sexual identity, social relations, and ethical authority. The book's drawback, despite its admirably close-packed construction and battering power of observation, is that Gordimer's characters are more like symbols than real people; they serve her rhetorical ends too summarily. The Lindgards are liberal white pillars of the less-racist-than-it-used-to-be South African establishment--Harald an insurance executive, Claudia a doctor--whose 27-year-old architect son Duncan shoots and kills his friend Carl Jesperson after stumbling upon Jesperson having sex with Duncan's girlfriend. But the story is only nominally about Duncan's motives. Instead, Gordimer puts us on the planet of his parents' panic as they realize for the first time that ``violence is the common hell of all who are associated with it.'' The Lindgards are temporarily robbed of their privilege and left to cope with what little can remain of their moral confidence. Their previously untested social prestige, for instance, had meant they ``had never been to a black man's home'' before Hamilton Motsamai, now their son's lawyer, welcomes them to his. But so much else in their lives has also gone unquestioned, and Gordimer concentrates on showing how one destructive event can forcibly clarify whatever has led up to it. Her narrative remove makes her insights seem absolute, not conditional. Yet her ``objective'' stance as an insider arbiter also lifts her high above the hell she's evoking, with the result that hell can seem a rather too orchestrated and orderly place. A Dostoyevskian look at crime and punishment, although a far remove from the way the earlier master did it.