Trying to solve the kidnapping of a friend’s daughter sounds more compelling than leading a Portland writers' conference to an out-of-town writer who's suddenly been put in charge.
After establishing herself with some success as an author—and how much success can the average author even expect?—Charlemagne Russo, known to friends as Charlee, agrees to speak at a writers’ conference as a favor to a friend. When Charlee arrives in Portland, she expects her friend and the conference organizer, Viv Lundquist, to want a little help with the final conference plans, but Viv has other ideas. After telling Charlee that her adult daughter, Hanna, has been kidnapped, Viv pressures Charlee to take the reins of the rest of the conference organizing, from stuffing gift bags to herding volunteers. Charlee is agreeable (though Viv’s harried entitlement might make someone who was less of a softie turn her back on the request) and tries to do what she can in a sort of Murphy’s Law of conference planning. First, it seems that the conference site, the Pacific Portland Hotel, has double-booked a dog agility show for the same days, and the hotel staff doesn’t seem to think this is a problem. Then an East Coast storm means that many of the prestigious workshop leaders may be unable to make it for their sessions, but Viv doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem if Charlee steps in and offers professional writing advice in their steads. Charlee’s almost at her wits' end with Viv’s requests and loses patience when Viv is willing to embezzle conference fees to pay Hanna’s ransom. All of this leads Charlee to wonder if Hanna has been kidnapped at all or if Viv is looking for an excuse to liquidate the funds for herself. Drawing on her past success in investigating, Charlee decides the time has come for her to get to the bottom of Hanna’s disappearance, even if the truth implicates someone she once trusted.
Idiosyncratic characters annoy rather than charm in this book-centric cozy that doesn’t have the humor or lightness of Clark’s debut mystery (Fiction Can Be Murder, 2018, etc.).