After a two-book sabbatical devoted to launching her fledgling Howe-August series, an obviously revitalized Roberts returns with a brisker, brighter 10th Amanda Pepper (Helen Hath No Fury, 2000, etc.). These days, Philly Prep’s maverick English teacher is taking her sleuthing avocation more seriously—turning pro, in fact, to join her live-in lover, ex-homicide cop C.K. Mackenzie in a newly minted p.i. enterprise. Their first client is frosty old blueblood Claire Fairchild, rich, snobbish, and convinced that a certain amount of meddling into her son’s love life has become obligatory. The cause and effect here is one Emmie Cade, Leo Fairchild’s fiancée. “She’s sweet. Friendly. Fine first impression,” Mrs. Fairchild acknowledges. But “who is she?” According to Claire, Emmie descended on them a year ago from one of those other places—other, that is, than the Main Line. Now that her impressionable son is dangerously smitten, Mandy’s charged with checking the outsider out. But Mandy, as usual, has a plate heaped high. There’s the new term at Philly Prep, for instance, always a time of Sturm und Drang. There’s the question of her long-term future with C.K.—adored as a lover, more iffy as a husband. Her uncertain marital prospects, combined with an impending visit by C.K.’s parents, give her a serious case of in-law angst. And then, suddenly, there’s murder. Amanda’s first and only client has gotten herself rubbed out. Not to worry: It’s all grist for Ms. Pepper’s mill.
More substance to the mystery, more crackle to the dialogue: a notch up for the series.