February 15, 1993 12:00 PM

by Julian Symons

In the fine English countryside, Victor Lassiter, an architect, busies himself with real estate schemes. His wife, Judith, still childless at 37. works part-time al a charily shop and fights tedium by sending herself letters copied from romance novels. Harmless whimsy, one supposes; this may be just another British domestic comedy. Why, then, does a preface recount the discovery of a body in a local ditch?

Persevere, reader! There is a connection between the Lassiters and that unidentified corpse; Judith’s wistful restlessness masks a near crazed misery; the prissy Victor keeps gross sexual secrets locked away.

Advised by a friend to seek diversion, Judith takes refresher driving lessons. They begin in her young instructor’s car and end in Judith’s bed. Hope rises in her for a new life. Billy, the instructor, loves her and knows how to make things happen (even how to get murder done!). But Billy too has his secrets, the greatest of which brings this thriller to a startling close.

In his 28th mystery novel, Symons—successor to G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie as President of the Detection Club—may well have pulled off an ingenious whodunit first. Keeping the identity of a murderer secret till the closing pages is standard procedure; in this enormously readable entertainment, Symons keeps you guessing about the victim too. (The Mysterious Press, $17.95)

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