What would happen if you put Ruth Rendell down in Ireland's wild Donegal countryside and forced her to absorb hour upon hour of glorious, ribald pub talk? Well, she might just write a novel like this one--a splendidly subdued black comedy that somehow manages to unroll pages of leisurely, allusive chat without mucking up the natural pacing of the suspense. ""Eales was evil beyond reasonable doubt. Eales must be destroyed."" So pub-owner Roarty, bearded and bald and furious that sleazy barman Eales has been fooling with Roarty's teenage daughter, bashes Eales on the head with Vol. 25 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica; he then consults the encyclopedia on Homicide (""it was a disappointing article""), buries the body, fakes Eales' non-violent departure from town, and feels not the slightest twinge of guilt. Unfortunately, however, Roarty soon receives a note--signed ""Bogmailer""--which demands Â£30 per week if Roarty wants the murder kept secret. Worse yet, parts of Eales' body start turning up at the police station. And Roarty is convinced (wrongly, as it happens) that the ""bogmailer"" is Kenneth Potter, an English engineer on assignment in Donegal, one of the pub's witty, argumentative regulars. (Both Roarty and Potter are ex-Jesuit seminarians, a notoriously ironic breed.) So Roarty begins trembling at the sight of copper McGing and staring hard at his chum Potter, contemplating another murder. . . while Potter, oblivious, concentrates on lighter matters: estranged from his wife, he's courting the parish priest's young housekeeper--and when the priest interferes, Potter organizes the ""Anti-Limestone Society,"" sabotaging the priest's campaign to replace the church's wooden altar. (The Society's war cry is ""HOOA!""--as in Hands Off Our Altar.) So: a beguiling blend of psychological suspense and village comedy--with grand talk (on Marxism, movies, Irish vs. English Catholicism), evocative fishing and hunting, earthy sex scenes (Roarty dabbles with a beefy barmaid), and a stellar supporting cast of eccentrics. All in all, the most cheering crime/suspense debut in quite some time.