``The Miss Marple of Shady Hill, New Jersey,'' a popular magazine dubbed her when she solved the case of the murdered nanny (Missing Marlene, 1999). Ordinarily, she's just plain Jane Stuart, struggling literary agent, but the Marple touch does come in handy since, as more than one friend has pointed out, people around her have a way of suddenly dying. This time, the homicidal parade begins with the unfortunate young stranger who gives the novel its title: poor waiflike Hannah, hanged from a tree. Next, it's Holly Griffin, the bumptious New York book editor, disliked by all too many—and stabbed by one. Third in line is poisoned media magnate Cecil Willoughby, rich, powerful, ruthless, estranged even from his only son and sporting an endless train of illwishers unrelated by blood. Could these violent, seemingly disparate, deaths in some way be connected? A cozy conundrum if ever there was one, and Jane goes to work on it. Helped in her efforts by that nice Lt. Stanley Greenberg of the Shady Hills PD and Winky the cat, Jane ratiocinates successfully. Actually, as in the author's debut, it's Winky's work that proves pivotal to the resolution, though in the process she comes perilously close to expending one of her nine. Still, a cat's got to do what a cat's got to do.
Miss Marple lite.