By Stephan Lee
Updated September 05, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Ever since his 2001 magnum opus, Atonement, Ian McEwan has followed a reliable and effective template for his novels: A highly educated middle-aged professional goes about his well-to-do life until an out-of-nowhere incident stains his beige existence red. In this latest variation, the disaster that awaits Fiona Maye, a High Court judge, doesn’t exactly hurtle toward her — it creeps around her like a tendril.

Fiona, 59, has won the esteem of her peers by presiding over tough family cases, such as whether to separate conjoined twins. Just as her husband of 30 years proposes an open marriage — an idea that’s as preposterous to her as it is devastating — she gets a case involving a brilliant teenage Jehovah’s Witness, Adam, who’s refusing the blood transfusion that will save his life because of his (but really his parents’) religious convictions. Whether because of her marital problems or her regrets over never having had children, Fiona finds herself in a situation with Adam that crosses a line. The consequences aren’t as violent as those that befall McEwan’s protagonists in Saturday and Solar, but Fiona’s experience is no less haunting in this brief but substantial addition to the author’s oeuvre. A-