Shannon continues her descent--begun with The Punishment (1980)--from respectable historical-romance into wretched mystery-melodrama. The heroine is young would-be actress Erin Bowen, who visits her godmother Bess Porter (a famed mystery writer) in Northern Canada, only to find a mÃ‰nage full of misfits whom Bess has rescued: ex-thief Luke, a handyman/law student; dwarfish cook-housekeeper Valentine; ex-drunk Clancy, the gardener; ex-prostitute Mac, the secretary; and two vicious Dobermans. Furthermore, tough Bess--whose husband and children were savagely murdered years ago--is now playing detective, investigating the case of three girls who vanished on a trip. The sleuth and her cronies trace the gifts' journey (in a '58 Rolls Royce); after longwinded reviews of all clues--and after one girl's body is found--they zero in on an evil husband-and-wife duo; and when Bess decides to bait a trap for the villains, Erin gets a chance to act--by posing as a wealthy heiress just begging to be kidnapped. She is indeed abducted, and there's a final confrontation with the sadistic, occultist culprits . . . plus a rescue by the misfit-heroes and Bess' last-minute confession of some old crimes. Not as distasteful as The Punishment, but pedestrian muck nonetheless--and merely irritating in its limp imitations of Rex Stout-style deduction and atmosphere.