In The Lasko Tangent (1978), Patterson lent a tart touch of narrative class to an otherwise routine Washington-conspiracy plot. And now, similarly, he shows glimmers of talent even as he tediously recycles a far more shopworn commodity: the inbred-community murder mystery that expands into a merry-go-round of uncovered secrets, psycho-sexual and otherwise. The victim here is Mrs. Lydia Cantrell, a society matron of Birmingham, Alu.; she's found strangled in her manse by narrator Adam Shaw-a northern Catholic lawyer (haunted son of a murdered cop) who has only recently become reasonably comfortable in his wife's WASPy social set or in the law firm of his domineering father-in-law. And among the suspects is Adam's dear friend Henry Cantwell, Lydia's book-loving husband--so Adam determines to do all he can to clear Henry of suspicion, which means exploring all possible angles. Could the murder be revenge for the long-ago miscarriage of justice perpetrated by Lydia's father against two black men? Did Lydia have a lover? Did Lydia's foul son Jason know that she was about to cut him out of her will? Why did the murderer mutilate a painting of Lydia and why did someone deal similarly with a picture of Adam's wife Kris Ann? In a series of talky scenes, Adam opens all these cans of worms, resulting in near-soap-operatic revelations of adultery, homosexuality, questionable paternity, alcoholism, bygone rape attempts, etc. And then, after Henry's suicide, there's a long, final, psychoobsessive revelation close to home which neither surprises nor convinces. Still, Patterson reaffirms his knack for dialogue (though there's much too much of it here)--and if he can break out of contrived genre writing, he may yet produce suspense of distinction.