Hopbridge Chief Inspector Nick Trevellyan's first solo outing- -his live-in sometime detective partner Alison Hope (Hope Will Answer, 1993, etc.) hovers on the fringe--is a dark departure from the badinage of his earlier ventures. The obvious (but not the only) reason is the case he's investigating: a kiddie-porn bust that turns even uglier when middleman Arturo Bottone, who has smilingly denied that he's been selling his photos to anybody but a few close friends he can't name right now--is found hanged the morning after he'd been freed on bail. Nick, alone in his belief that the hanging is murder, calls on both Bottone's widow, Laura, and Deborah Tyson, the newly estranged wife of the insurance salesman caught buying Bottone's photos. Laura's focused and surviving along with her four daughters; Deborah's strung out and close to a breakdown in the wake of an onslaught of vicious phone threats and arson. Nick also renews a friendship with his old flame, Lucy Fielding, recently rescued from postpartum blues by a charming London photographer who wants to set her infant daughter up as a model. The three women form a study in different ways of coping; yet Nick's friendship with all three doesn't forestall a downbeat ending that leaves him with ``a worthless list of names; a stab in the back from a supposed friend; a real friend guilty of murder, but inviolable; [and a con man] free to move on to his next victim.'' A deceptively quiet setup, a stunning climax, and an all-too- plausible harvest of ashes in Kelly's strongest novel yet.