Private eye Regan Reilly, down at the Jersey shore to celebrate the birthday of her mother, that famous suspense writer, is on hand—you can’t really say she does much more than that—for a hastily organized garage sale whose satellites include an aspiring killer.
Having just completed a bona fide piece of sleuthing—getting the goods on her old classmate Hayley Patton’s unfaithful boyfriend Scott Thompson—Regan (Fleeced, 2001, etc.) is ready for some R and R. But the garage sale suddenly declared by Edna Frawley, the imperious mother of Karen Fulton, novelist Nora Regan Reilly’s old friend, promises to provide everything but. Edna’s eager to sell her house in Bay Head and all its contents, including, most memorably, the things left behind by Cleo Paradise, the Oscar-nominated actress who rented the place for a month. Cleo wouldn’t have run off without her extra jeans and her trunk full of plastic skulls if she hadn’t been panicked by yet more sinister gifts of the dead roses she thought she’d left behind in Los Angeles. Now Cleo has vanished for parts unknown, leaving her stalker to smack his lips in a series of interpolated chapters in which he exults over her impending demise. Doubtless Regan, along with her husband Jack, head of NYPD’s Major Crimes Squad, will find her and rush to her defense just as soon as she’s waded through all the fans, bullies, rivals, wannabes and hangers-on who’ve turned out for Edna’s sale.
To find the unguessable culprit, you’ll have to look beneath a pile of suspects who seem less menacing than bothersome, like a cloud of Jersey mosquitoes.