California's Kate Jasper, owner of Jest Gifts, which makes antic presents, in her ninth frenetic encounter with murder (A Cry for Self-Help, 1997, etc.). This time, the victim is Shayla Greenfree, writer of science-fiction mysteries, and the place is the Fictional Pleasures Bookstore, where proprietor Ivan Nakagawa has arranged a book signing for Shayla's latest work. Among others present, besides Kate and her lover Wayne, now owner of a restaurant-art gallery, are: Ivan's ill-tempered assistant Marcia Armeson; nonselling author Ted Brown; Shayla's husband Scott Green and his lover, Dean Frazier; screechy writer Yvette Cassell with husband Lou; acupuncturist Phyllis Oberman, and artist Zoe Ingersoll. As all wait for Shayla to begin her talk--after she's clasped on her wrist a bracelet left on the table in front of her--it's soon apparent that the speaker-to-be is dead, poisoned by curare-tipped needles inside the bracelet. Kate, as usual, feels challenged to find the killer. This time, though, she's matched in aggressive nosiness by Yvette. The possibly accidental death of Marcia Armeson will provide further excuse for more unproductive meetings of those at the signing; and torrents of inane chatter and a parade of unappetizing vegetarian menus ensue as Kate struggles to rid her house of unwanted guest Ingrid Regnary and a quartet of real-life skunks. Suspense and plot development are sacrificed to perpetual motion, cutesy chitchat, and a plethora of going-nowhere subplots. Busy but ultimately boring.