``Merry'' doesn't go far enough: Magdalene College tutor Maureen Helmont had enjoyed a passionately active life ever since she seduced her uncle, the local vicar, at 19. As Juliana Magnusson, she was noted for her sexually outspoken romance novels, whose readers eagerly awaited her forthcoming, and equally explicit, memoirs. Did somebody smother her for her sizable estate as she lay convalescing from recent surgery--or out of jealousy or revenge, or to stop her from completing those memoirs? No-nonsense Chief Inspector Sidney Walsh and the other members of his serious- crimes team find precious few interesting friends or relations to mourn the merry widow, but he does find a lively farrago of heinous subplots: the murderous attack on Helmont's latest lover; the killing of her old school friend Gillian Gilbert (no mystery about this crime, anyway); and a deadly confrontation with the minions of a travel agency willing to go the extra mile for its very special clientele. Cambridgeshire has never seemed more erratically dangerous. Hunt's first American publication is marked by a sharp eye for procedural detail as well as the usual British literacy and warmth in handling the police. Be warned, though: The killer who appears out of nowhere in the last chapter is scarcely less insubstantial than the cast of suspects.