What do gardening, astrology, the theater, magic and fantasy have in common? In this fine sequel to the authors' well-received Point of Hopes (1995) and The Armor of Light (1988), the common thread is murder. Scott and Barnett have created an unusual and successful blend of fantasy and mystery, set in the Renaissance-like city of Astreiant during the production of a midwinter masque. Based on The Alphabet of Desire, a manual of magic using flowers and plants, the masque is the talk of the city. When dead bodies start to turn up on stage, however, it's up to Nico Rathe, who's a sort of chief constable called an ""adjunct point,"" and his leman, Philip Eslingen, to follow the clues and find out who's behind the murders. Each death appears to be unrelated, but the sleuths (you can't really call them anything but) know there has to be a link somewhere. That this is the season when ghosts are out in force serves to complicate the investigation. Familiarity with the previous books in the series isn't necessary, as the authors provide just the right amount of background on Astreiant for readers to get their bearings. Having deftly, and gratifyingly, entwined two different genres, Scott and Barnett have produced a page-turner that is sure to win them new fans. (Feb.) FYI: Scott has twice won the Lambda Award for SF as well as a John W. Campbell Award.