Though this latest case for Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is slightly overextended and terribly subdued, James continues to furnish the richest wordings and roundest characters in contemporary detective fiction. The murder-by-mallet victim is the senior biologist at a police laboratory in the fen country, the sort of beastly fellow whose demise benefits a spray of suspects: the unstable junior biologist he's firing, the incestuously jealous brother of his ex-mistress, the education-hungry receptionist and the lesbian cousin whorl inherit money--all employees at the Lab, a milieu that James scours with graceful, grave relish. But the best things here are those furthest removed from the crimes (the cousin's housemate is later strangled and hung in a chapel)--the affecting portrait of the lesbian couple, a glimpse of the self-destructing nymphomaniac who furnishes an alibi, a charwoman's fear of phones, the quirks and obsessions that enflame the innocent as well as the guilty. Perhaps assuming that Dalgliesh's personality is by now familiar, James allows the poet-widower-detective to be less stimulating and more workaday than usual. And the exposition-by-dialogue is sometimes awkward, while the denouement makes sense without sensation. Quibble away, but these are real people drawing real blood, caught from all angles by a modern grande dame who really writes.