Murder mysteries generally have a taste for the absurd. Elaborate, often grisly death scenes lead to the inevitable, sometimes illogical plot twist. So it's a treat to see a novel as securely grounded in reality as Peter Lovesey's The Circle. In an English village, a small publisher visits a writer's circle composed of enthusiastic but not necessarily talented amateur writers. He dashes their hopes, his house is soon ablaze, and suspicion falls on the group. Inspector Henrietta Mallin doesn't appear until halfway through the book, a risky move that allows Lovesey to develop each of the circle's dozen believably eccentric members. Lovesey's restraint, wit, and charming cast ensure his place in the winner's circle.