Philadelphia's high-school teacher/sometime sleuth Amanda Pepper (I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia, etc.) dutifully escorts her mother Bea to a 50th birthday-party bash--an event paid for by playwright-TV producer Lyle Zacharias, who wants all the important influences in his life at this party he's hosting at a small hotel. But those past relationships take on new significance when Lyle dies of poison after eating dinner. Bimbo-ish current wife Tiffany, having an affair with actor-guest Shepard McCoy, is underwhelmed with sorrow--ditto second wife Sybil, in attendance with her and Lyle's teenaged son Reed. Terry Wiley, a high-school pal whose work Lyle seems to have plagiarized and built a career on, is there, too, and the father-daughter team who own the hotel might also have had a bitter score to settle with the charming, satanic Lyle. Only aged Aunt Hattie seems truly grieved--as Amanda and her policeman friend McKenzie slowly pull together long-buried secrets to reach a tortured conclusion. The road there is a bit tortured, too- -through thickets of Amanda's sometimes witty but mostly self- absorbed meanderings. Blithe but bloated, and only sporadically engrossing.