Finding her dream house turns into a nightmare for Arkansas bookseller Claire Malloy (Damsels in Distress, 2007, etc.).
Now that she and hunky deputy police chief Peter Rosen are back from their honeymoon in Egypt, Claire’s two-bedroom apartment seems a mite small to house both the happy couple and Claire’s daughter Caron. So rather than forcing the moody 17-year-old to move in with her bookish best friend Inez, Claire leaves the Book Depot in the hands of her earnest young clerk and goes off with real estate agent Angela Delmond to plow through Farberville’s meager housing stock. Just as Claire finds a beautiful restored Victorian backing onto a meadow, Angela disappears, stranding her client in her dream house. Worse yet, as she tries to complete the deal sans realtor, Claire finds the title to the house shrouded in conflict. Before his fatal plunge into the creek, Winston Hollow left it to his gay lover, Terry Kennedy. Naturally, the Hollow clan is disputing the will. Although his wife, flaky Pandora Butterfly Saraswati, couldn’t care less about material possessions, organic farmer Ethan Hollow sees Winston’s property as the Hollows’ birthright. Righteous Charles Finnelly, related by marriage to Ethan’s cousin Felicia, is less concerned with legacy than with losing the land to a godless pervert. Gentle Nattie is torn. She wants the family estate to stay intact but would love a neighbor like Claire to relieve the tedium of caring for her demented Uncle Moses. But it won’t be enough to win over the Hollows; in order to buy the house, Claire will need to solve a string of murders.
In spite of Claire’s sardonic wit and the Hollows’ zaniness, Hess’ latest is all too predictable, bringing sad truth to Claire’s constant refrain: “if this were a mystery novel...”