The long-running Amanda Pepper series (Till the End of Tom, 2004, etc.) winds up with something between a bang and a whimper.
Amanda Pepper’s last case—the apparent suicide of Phoebe Ennis—turns out to be something of a downer. Phoebe, a ditzy but sweet-natured friend, has been discovered dead from pills and booze. At first, Philly Prep’s ranking teacher/sleuth and her husband, C.K. Mackenzie, a former homicide cop, have no trouble accepting the suicide verdict. Given the circumstances, it seems as sensible as it is sad. But there’s another holdout. In the course of a rocky romantic life, Phoebe had managed to tie the knot five times, once with the father of her quondam stepdaughter Sasha, who vigorously dissents from the official verdict. Mandy finds herself reexamining aspects of Phoebe’s demise in the light of Sasha’s objections. Consider the dead woman’s shoes, for instance: “Very sexy . . . red, strappy things . . . four or five inch stilettos”—not the proper fashion accessories for self-annihilation. Noting that the suspect list is surprisingly ample, Mandy conscripts a reluctant C.K. and gets down to cases for the dozenth time.
A not-so-hot Pepper: Roberts closes the books on a sturdy, occasionally first-rate series with a by-the-numbers effort that shows only fitful flashes of her wit.