Because Lily Brewster and her brother Robert live in a big house and drive a Duesenberg, their neighbors in Voorburg-on-Hudson assume they’re well off. They don’t know that the pair, wiped out in the crash of ’29, will inherit their late great-uncle Horatio’s estate, including that grand house and automobile, only if they satisfy his executor, Elgin Prinney, that they can support themselves for ten years. And what better way to support themselves than investigating the odd murder—like the case of a mummified corpse Robert finds in Horatio’s long-disused icehouse, or the more recent demise of local vegetable grower Roxanne Anderson’s lecherous husband Donald? Both these pale homicides are eclipsed by a subplot in which Jack Summer, editor of the newspaper Lily and Robert don’t own, goes to Washington to report on the Bonus Army March—an episode that has precious little to do with the murders but at least generates some emotional warmth when President Hoover sends in troops to fire on the veterans of the world war. Even the home-front intrigue has less to do with crime and punishment—the tiny mystery breaks every rule for plotting the detective novel—than soap opera, as Lily’s heroic sacrifice in getting her hair permed twice in order to pump a key witness upstages any interest in whodunit.
The lack of momentum in Lily’s and Robert’s hardcover debut won’t surprise Churchill’s fans, who may well be curious to see how she handles a tale set in the ’30s, the spiritual matrix for her contemporary Jane Jeffry series (Mulch Ado About Nothing, 2000, etc.).