In this second mystery following two retiree friends with a knack for sleuthing (Death at Breakfast, 2016, etc.), a favorite teacher is found dead at a historic Hudson River Valley private school.
Don’t let the YA–inspired cover fool you. This is about how very serious and adult problems can be cultivated in the most innocent of settings. Complications are aplenty for the Rye Manor School for Girls, currently undergoing evaluation for possible closure, when art history teacher Florence Meagher goes missing. Former New York City private school head Maggie Detweiler is already on the premises as part of the evaluation, and she’s quick to start her investigation and also to tell her friend Hope Babbin what's going on. When Florence is found dead in the school’s Olympic-size pool by diving star and board-member daughter Lily Hollister, Hope leaves her book club in Boston to join Maggie on the hunt for clues. Everyone at the school is apparently aware of Florence’s “affliction”—she was incapable of shutting up—but using this as a motive for murder seems thin considering readers get only a moment’s exposure to it. Gutcheon wastes no time delving into other areas of suspicion, however, namely Florence’s marriage to her insensitive husband, Ray, whose alibi for the evening doesn’t check out. There’s also her mentorship of troubled student Jesse, who has a tendency for violent behavior. The story is brimming with people in desperate situations, from school trustees to local business owners to students at their emotional limits. This second installment is a noticeable improvement on the first in terms of character development, but as Maggie and Hope home in on the individual they feel most likely to have silenced Florence for good, major plotlines get thrown by the wayside. The secretive affairs of Rye-on-Hudson are undoubtedly compelling, but don’t expect conclusions for each downcast individual.
A cozy grounded by realistic horrors, though the true affliction here is the untidy number of loose ends.