When popular and likable Ethan Ford (sound anything like a character from an Edith Wharton novel?) fails to show up for work one summer morning, few of his neighbors would be able to guess that he's been hiding secrets for more than 15 years. When the truth is finally revealed, it shatters the peaceful surface of Ford's hometown of Monroe, Mass. Ford is suddenly arrested for the rape and murder of a teenage girl 15 years earlier in Maryland. He confesses to the crime, but says that he's a changed man, who has atoned for his crime through exemplary behavior. What this means for his wife of 13 years, his 12-year-old son, and his many admirers in his small town, gives Alice Hoffman an opportunity to explore themes of devotion, betrayal and forgiveness in her new novel, Blue Diary. Kirkus Reviews says Hoffman's new book signals the "return to form" of a "gifted, popular author." Hear her read at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh Tuesday, July 31, at 7:30 p.m. and at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham on Wednesday, August 1, at 7 p.m. Call Quail Ridge Books at 828-1588 or the Regulator Bookshop at 286-2700 for details.