A Clear Conscience: A Helen West Mystery

Frances Fyfield, Author Pantheon Books $20 (223p) ISBN 978-0-679-42666-0

Tensions between the ideal and the actual drive Fyfield's thought-provoking, somewhat downbeat tale. Crown Prosecutor Helen West, last seen in Shadow Play (1993), is frustrated at work by battered women who won't testify against their abusers and at home by general untidiness. To tackle the latter, she hires Cath, a somewhat crude but diligent cleaning lady. When Helen glimpses bruises on Cath, she realizes that Cath's husband, a bartender named Joe, is just the sort of fellow she'd like to see hauled into court. At the same time, Helen's lover, Police Superintendent Geoffrey Bailey, is troubled by a case he thinks was prematurely closed: the pub-fight murder of Damien Flood, who was Cath's beloved brother. From a different angle than Helen's, Bailey's eye also focuses on Cath's husband. Then another murder changes the picture. Defying simple judgments and complacent assessments, the plot features a twist at the close that will leave readers mulling over all that has gone before--and Fyfield's message. (Apr.)