Henri Castang's last case--Freeling is regrettably firm about that--is drenched in thoughts of age and death. ``Every time I see a friend of mine he's dead,'' grumbles the aging Castang (The Seacoast of Bohemia, 1995, etc.), kicked at once upstairs and into retirement from the European Community's Police Judiciaire. The latest victims of Castang's curse are his old friends Jerry and Mathilde Gutierrez, slain by a pair of small- time robbers as Castang and his wife Vera watch helplessly, and Castang's old chief Adrien Richard, who's died without children and left his little house in Biarritz to Vera. Themselves bereft of domestic and professional ties, the Castangs, those good Europeans, settle into Richard's home as into a pair of old shoes. But a high-pressure developer has his eye on the property, and when Castang shrugs off his cash tender, the developer resorts to sterner measures: Castang and Vera discover they're grandparents just in time to have their granddaughter snatched from under their noses. Since the local Judiciaire chief has been warned to proceed very carefully with the case, lest the baby perchance be found, it's up to Castang and a motley assembly of Basque locals to spirit her out of the sepulchral Empress Hotel. Crime and detection are submerged beneath a transcendentally stylish meditation on mortality that makes Castang's farewell almost unbearably poignant.