Echoes of Arsenic and Old Lace flutter through this chronicle of the eccentric Malloys of Louisiana. Bookseller-sleuth Claire Malloy (Roll Over and Play Dead, 1991, etc.) was married to Carlton, dead ten years now, youngest son of autocratic, hard- drinking, wheelchair-bound Justicia, who has commanded the entire family to celebrate her 80th birthday at decrepit Malloy Manor, deep in the bayou. Arriving with reluctant teenage daughter Caron in tow, Claire finds oily Stanford, Carlton's older brother; his kooky children, Ellie and Keith; genealogy-obsessed cousins Maxie and Phoebe; and Justicia's sullen companion, Pauline. They're all in a genteel fever of greed, expecting the old lady to read her will at the birthday dinner. But Justicia never makes it to dinner, ending up dead in her wheelchair in a nearby pond, supposedly by accident. Further complications for Claire to chew on: newly hired young black lawyer Spikenard (a family connection?); the disappearance of longtime family solicitor D'Armand; sporadic appearances (the final one as a corpse) by an unknown taxi-driver; and other oddities adding clutter and confusion to the overworked plot of a story that's more fizzle than froth. Whimsy-laden, mildly entertaining, mediocre Hess.