Just a block away from the Greenwich Village apartment where Jimmy Stewart sat out the heat wave in Rear Window, the air conditioning has quit in retired attorney Martha Patterson’s building. It’s the final straw for a bloc of tenants—loudly complaining Jeff Callaghan, his pouting wife Vanessa, British art reviewer Everett Upton, Bird Buckley and her pregnant partner Nadine Jones, and Ruth and Simeon Kaplowitz—who organize a meeting that ends up urging Martha to run for the much-reviled co-op board. Little do they know that an opportune vacancy is about to open up. When a copy of the maintenance contract for the air-conditioner vanishes, Martha, who’s deputized to accompany the management firm’s rep in retrieving it from board president Arnold Stern, is on hand to discover Arnold’s body. Did he have any enemies? NYPD Detective White asks Martha, who replies that it would make more sense to ask whether Arnold, whose wife Lila recently left him, had any friends. Sorting through a dozen leads—a prized Greek antiquity belonging to Everett’s ailing friend Irene Xendopoulis that was found in his apartment, rumors of contracting kickbacks to board member Yolanda Young, eight-year-old Melody Callaghan’s tale of a wavy-haired man on the stairs—Martha, her sharp memory aided perhaps a bit too much by coincidence and luck—restores justice, though not good weather, to her building.
As in Martha’s first two cases (Maquette for Murder, 2000, etc.), the real prizes are the heroine’s shrewd, unassuming intelligence and the authorial voice that makes a world in which nothing much happens consistently entertaining.