Shades of Agatha Christie. A disparate group of guests snowed in at an English hotel await Christmas and death.
Rex Graves, QC, makes the trip from Scotland to Swanmere Manor just in time to turn sleuth. The proprietress, Mrs. Smithings, a widow who recently lost a son in Iraq, is an old friend of his mother’s. But Rex’s fond memories of childhood visits are about to be polluted by a series of murders. Soon after his arrival, he is taken aside by honeymooning EMT Charley Perkins, who confides his suspicions that what caused old Mr. Lawdry’s death was not a heart attack but poison in his almond tart. The next to die is unpopular New York literary agent Miriam Greenbaum, whose edited biography of George W. Bush has been delayed by a fall down the stairs that was obviously helped along. Rex is attracted to Helen d’Arcy, but when her friend Wanda Martyr falls victim to the killer, he has to add Helen to his necessarily small list of suspects. Nothing daunted, he uses his prosecutorial expertise to work his way through method and motive until he announces the murderer in a denouement in the classic style.
Challinor’s debut is a pleasant modern knockoff of Christie. It remains to be seen whether Rex’s skills are the equal of Poirot’s or Miss Marple’s.