In Ayer’s (Tales of Chinkapin Creek, Volume II, 2012, etc.) mystery novel, the accidental death of an affluent alcoholic may, in fact, be a simple case of murder.
It’s the first party of the summer in French Haven, Maine, at George Wollaston’s home, and many of the guests are inebriated. Afterward, caterer Richard Grassie finds George dead from an apparent fall down the backyard steps. It’s initially viewed as an unfortunate accident; George had a similar stumble just last year. But it turns out that there’s no shortage of people who wanted to see him dead—including his wife, Margaret, who blames him for their son’s suicide, and his teenage daughter, Angie, whom he’d humiliated by loudly disapproving of her attire at the party. When cops find evidence that George may have been drugged, nearly everyone at the party becomes a suspect. It’s up to amateur sleuth Richard, along with police chief Eliot Perham and Detective Le Bel, to solve the murder. Richard is initially afraid he might forget details about that night, so he writes down everything he can remember for the police; it’s a plot point that functions superbly, as it provides a logical reason for him to work with Chief Eliot. It also inserts some drama into the story, as his notes also cause police to question his friend and co-worker Flora. Fans of traditional whodunits will be delighted with this tale, as it exuberantly follows many genre conventions, including suspects who may not be murderers but definitely have secrets to hide. Ayer sets the mystery in the 1980s, which adds to its classic mystery appeal, as there’s no modern technology in sight. The story’s most remarkable element, however, is the way it tackles the serious issue of alcoholism. George’s addiction, for example, has devastated his family, and Richard’s own father was also a heavy drinker. Alcohol even has detrimental consequences for the murder case, as one guest’s intoxication makes her an unreliable witness.
A fine murder mystery, in the style of Agatha Christie, with a hawk-eyed protagonist and bevy of suspects.