Having taken Chief Inspector Reg Wexford (Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, 1992, etc.) from China to California, Rendell now plunges him into the most exotic setting of all: the Thatcherite underside of his own village of Kingsmarkham. When Wexford's Nigerian physician, Dr. Raymond Akande, reports his unemployed daughter Melanie missing, her trail ends just outside the local Benefits Office, where Annette Bystock had given her information and taken down her particulars. Wexford's staunch sidekick Mike Burden, making routine inquiries, is shocked to discover, not Melanie's body, but Annette's. Even a second corpse, unveiled to the Akandes in a harrowing scene, isn't Melanie's. By this time, Rendell has expanded the mystery of Melanie's whereabouts--courtesy of trenchant episodes introducing a hapless burglar, a pushy local politician, an unbelievably obtuse adulterer and the wife he deserves, and an anti-rape rally--to a vast and labyrinthine exploration of racism, wife-heating, unemployment, and the ugliest kinds of domestic abuse. Though the patient, endless windup is a letdown, Wexford's 16th case succeeds, as very few detective stories do, in creating a world that rings true from the opening question to the final deadly blow.