A sad reunion and a case of dubious identity in turn-of-the-20th-century Missouri.
Frank Hayward doesn’t look like himself. Or so it seems to Hattie Davish during his funeral at Mrs. Chaplin’s School for Women in St. Joseph. Hattie knows that Hayward was badly disfigured in the carriage accident that killed him and that the undertaker’s done his best with the corpse. But something is still off. When Hattie tries to tell her old friend Ginny, Hayward’s daughter, that the man in the coffin is missing a scar over his eyes, Ginny coldly dismisses her. Embarrassed and hurt—especially since she’s traveled all the way from Rhode Island to her hometown for Ginny’s sake—Hattie can’t shake the jitters and the sense that someone’s following her. Then she’s given an anonymous letter in shorthand that says something’s amiss at the Chaplin School and begs her to stay. She assumes the writer knows of her success as a detective, though she wishes the students of her alma mater weren’t more interested in the murders she’s solved and the glamour of her life with Newport’s finest than in her career as a personal secretary. She’s also dismayed when her childhood sweetheart and his golden trombone are served up as a surprise at a lakeside picnic. Hattie hasn’t forgiven him for abandoning her when she most needed him, and she longs to return to Newport and the young doctor she loves. But rumors of strange past incidents at the school, a runaway from the asylum where Hattie’s father died years ago, a missing account book, a couple of horticultural clues, and St. Joe’s most famous tourist attraction lead Hattie ever more deeply and perilously into the puzzle of what really happened to Frank Hayward.
Hattie’s fourth adventure (A Sense of Entitlement, 2014, etc.) provides just enough colorful historical details to compensate for a jumble of implausible plotlines.