The cash-strapped owner of Maggie’s Beignet Café, in Table Rock, Arizona, “where people move to who think Sedona is too mainstream,” celebrates Halloween with a threadbare mystery.
Nancy Alverson isn’t exactly Maggie Miller’s least friendly customer, but she’s no glad-hander either, and Maggie can categorize her only as “single and wan.” When she doesn’t show up for the cafe’s Halloween party, at which Maggie appears unwillingly costumed as Little Dead Riding Hood, a concerned Maggie brings some of her signature beignets to the upstairs apartment Nancy rents from Rob and Trish Gregory, the owners of Karma Koffee, Maggie’s indecently successful rival. In short order Maggie runs into glamorous lawyer Veronica Vargas, who nearly bowls her over as she bolts through the door, and Nancy herself, who’s sitting dead at her desk, strangled with VV’s scarf. Anyone but Detective Mark Highsmith would arrest VV, but since she’s the daughter of Table Rock’s mayor and Highsmith’s main squeeze, she’s left free to roam. So is Maggie, who despite the obligatory warnings from Highsmith decides that her mix of winsomeness, impecunity, and guileless snooping is just what's needed to avenge Nancy's death. Her resolve is strengthened when she receives a posthumous gift from Nancy—a flash drive containing the full text of Nancy’s tell-all book on the local Sacred Church of Witchkraft—and not diminished a whit when the drive is stolen from her computer, an episode that tells readers who missed Maggie’s first two appearances (Buried in Beignets, 2016, etc.) all they need to know about her sleuthing credentials.
The heroine’s game repartee can’t redeem a tale peopled by stock suspects, regulars who drop in and out with no reason, and a villain too nondescript to cast a shadow. The ultimate deprivation for fans of the subgenre: there’s not a single recipe.