Berkeley's Homicide Detective Jill Smith (Death and Taxes, 1992, etc.) is the negotiator in a hostage threat, played out in a local canyon, that turns out to be phony but seems to be connected to a rash of mostly harmless practical jokes recently plaguing the hated cops of the parking-meter squad. Overlooking the canyon is a small nursing home where Jill, looking for clues to the joker, finds Madeleine Riordan, onetime hotshot lawyer, civil-rights activist, and police adversary. She's dying of cancer, sharing a cottage with frail patient Claire Wellington, and under the care of aide Michael Wennerhaver. Fending off Jill's questions, Madeleine asks her to return the next night. Jill does--only to find Madeleine dead, and not of natural causes. Where is her veterinary husband Herbert Timms through all this? Why have the pranks against the police taken on a vicious edge since Madeleine died? Who couldn't wait for her imminent death and why? A tense, surprising, last-minute confrontation answers the questions and tests Jill's skills and smarts to the max. Despite occasional sags and Jill's tiresome musings on Madeleine's psyche: an adroitly plotted, consistently interesting police procedural and one of the author's best.