Annie (the mystery bookshop proprietor) and Max (the well-heeled golfing fanatic) Darling tackle the 12th discombobulation (White Elephant Dead, 1999, etc.) to throw South Carolina’s insular Broward Island into genteel chaos. First, Annie’s long-lost dad, Pudge, pops up, eager to establish a relationship. Then Max’s slightly daft mom Laurel is seen communing with a gravestone in hopes of contacting one of her late husbands. And Norma Desmondish movie star Maurgerite Dumaney, wealthy, imperious, and eccentric, has invited all her ne’er-do-well relatives to her birthday celebration, at which she plans to disinherit them all, even her stand-in/secretary, the obsequious Alice, and leave her millions to Emory Swanson and his Evermore Foundation (a scam to bilk lonely widows by putting them in touch with their dear departed). Marguerite’s sister, Happy, is the first to die, bludgeoned with a hockey stick. Pudge is accused, then his stepdaughter, and eventually Swanson. The answer lies somewhere in the maze, or possibly the attic, or maybe the conservatory or the secret passageway. One more will die before the Darlings settle in for a rapturous Christmas, content with their relatives, their cats, and their free-spending customers.
Ingratiating but long-winded. A map of the castle-like premises would have been both helpful and eminently compatible with such quaint clues as the disembodied voice at the séance, the shot in the dark, the Dobermans, and the cui bono lists.