Spring 1978: Newlyweds Benni (Steps to the Altar, 2002, etc.) and Jack Harper take time out from conjugal relations to enroll in Professor Hill’s history class at Cal Poly San Celina. Jack’s too manly to be much of a writer, so he opts for keeping a journal as his final project. But Benni leaps at the chance to write a term paper on local author Emma Baldwin, whose The Secret of the Crazy Quilt was one of her childhood favorites. And Emma takes an immediate shine to Benni, in spite of the envious glances of her son Cody. Fast forward to 1995. Cody’s dead. Jack’s dead. Benni’s married to police chief Gabriel Ortiz, who’s every bit as interested as Jack in sex, but who has a dark, brooding side. Right now he’s brooding over his ex-LAPD buddy Luke Webster, who came to San Celina on private business, ate tacos with Gabe and Benni, and promptly joined the dead himself. But Gabe’s investigation of Luke’s murder is quickly back-burnered when someone starts harassing Benni—making threatening phone calls, trashing her truck, even following her up to Pasa Robles, where she’s renewed her friendship with Emma. How can Gabe keep order in the west when a stalker, perhaps even someone from his own past, is threatening his querida?
Fowler’s fixation on Benni as the alpha and omega of every mystery deprives readers of any opportunity for serious mystification. Even Professor Hill would give this one a D.