Kate Brannigan's partner-in-crime-solving, Bill Mortensen, has been snared by a marriage-minded Australian siren and wants to sell his share of their inquiry agency to Kate. But she can't afford it--and besides, there's no way to tell what the partnership will be worth if wisecracking Kate (Clean Break, 1995, etc.) even survives the rash of cases that await her. There's an unscrupulous pair of headstone sellers who prey on the recently bereaved, and the punk band (scruffy buddies of Kate's rock-journalist lover Richard Barclay) whose shot at basking in the bright lights of Manchester is getting sabotaged by a bunch of well-connected heavies. And then there's the murder of Dr. Sarah Blackstone, a gynecologist who promised her practice--lesbians who wanted children of their own--that she could help them conceive without involving any men. Now Blackstone's patients, desperate to hide the nature of her research, find that she was even more secretive than they were, using a false name for her consulting and pushing her fertility research into frontiers that would've given anyone in her lab a perfect motive to kill her. Busy with comings and goings, but a bit mechanical and homogeneous, too, with a tangle of cases that tend to tap the same reliable emotions, a highly unsatisfactory climax, and not a trace of the dark brilliance of McDermid's The Mermaids Singing (p. 1498).