A second chapter in the life of widowed Bretta Solomon (Roots of Murder, 1999), who owns a florist shop in River City, Missouri. Planning a bed and breakfast, Bretta uses her inheritance to buy the mansion owned by elderly, wheelchair-bound heiress Cameo Beauchamp-Sinclair. Beauchamp women are known for being named for jewels and for shedding husbands as quickly as possible. Cameo’s daughter Topaz, now 52, bids fair to break this pattern by holding onto a secret male attachment: her unacknowledged son Jason, a photographer. He’s among those present when Bretta holds a pre-Christmas party to show off her renovations to the mansion. Cameo is on hand as well to announce to the assembled well-wishers that she’s been receiving unsigned blackmail letters. Soon thereafter the ballroom goes dark, and when the lights come on Cameo is dead in her wheelchair, strangled by a string of Christmas lights. Truculent Sheriff Sid Hancock quizzes Inez the cook, attorney Trevor McGuire, gossip columnist Sylvia Whitaker, and other guests, but ends by arresting Topaz and charging her with murder. There’ll be another murder before Bretta, faced with death from an unexpected source, finds an equally surprising rescuer.
Harrison writes an easy, fluent prose, but the plot, while suspenseful, is labored, chaotic, and ultimately unconvincing. A hearty dose of reality would help ground this fanciful, often intriguing mix.