In Pines’ (Deliver Us From Evil, 2015,etc.) latest mystery installment, amateur sleuth Mimi Goldman once again finds herself investigating a murder on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, a summer retreat in western New York state.
Mimi, a veteran newspaper reporter, has come back upstate from New York City for another summer of work as the sports editor at the Chautaquan Daily. She also hopes to continue her romance with Walt Dellaria, a Buffalo-based engineer. When controversial artist Jenny Van Alstine mysteriously disappears, her grandmother, 83-year-old Leona Anderson, asks her friend and co-worker Mimi to help find her. With little to go on, Mimi enlists the help of her own 31-year-old son, Jake, in New York City to scour the internet for background information on Jenny and her connections. Mimi suspects foul play, and, of course, she’s right. It takes a few days for the characters to learn what readers know up front—that Jenny has been shot and killed. It turns out that Jenny was rather universally disliked, so there are suspects aplenty: Jenny’s philandering husband, Jim; Kevin O’Neill, the young handyman who detested Jenny; Jenny’s sister, Pat, from whom she was alienated, and others. The juxtaposition of murder against the tranquil setting of the institution works its magic once again. Pines shares her obvious love for the gated enclave, describing it in detail throughout the novel; for instance, as Mimi talks on the phone with Jake, she gazes at “the lake, redbrick Bell Tower, gingerbready Miller Park cottages, grand Athenaeum Hotel and stunning lakefront houses.” Pines also hits her stylistic stride in this volume, as her staccato prose is more regulated and effective than in earlier works. A few quirks still pop up, though; for example, in an apparent attempt to keep readers guessing about the gender of the shooter, she frequently refers to that person as “they,” causing initial, and unnecessary, confusion. Overall, this installment works as a stand-alone, but new readers would still benefit from catching up on characters’ backgrounds in previous novels.
A pleasant, quick read with a likable heroine.