An over-the-hill film star who’s returned to her birthplace juices her standing in the tabloids by getting her just desserts, in an unexpectedly literal way, and then getting murdered.
Twenty years after Frankie Marshall left the North Kent seacoast town of Whitstable, Faye Marlowe, the glamorous actress who’s really Frankie under all that makeup, accepts the invitation of her old friend and freelance journalist Nathan Roscoe to play hostess to the annual May Day festivities at Whitstable Castle. Faye may no longer be under contract, but she’s lost none of her histrionic temperament, and she makes constant purring demands on Nathan; his friend Pearl Nolan (Murder-on-Sea, 2018, etc.), Whitstable’s leading restaurateur and private investigator, who’s inveigled into catering a last-minute lunch at the castle when Faye indicates that she’d rather not make the trip to the Whitstable Pearl; and everyone else who comes within range of her insinuating simper. Evidently one of her demands is too much for someone, for the morning after Jean Wheeler, whose son Jerry was jilted by Faye way back when she was still Frankie, satisfies her grudge by dumping a serving bowl of summer pudding trifle over Faye, leading Nathan to observe, “Nothing worse could possibly happen now,” Nathan and Pearl find the actress tethered to an ornamental maypole and stabbed to death. The suspects are thick upon the ground, from Faye’s probationary driver and French maid, Luc Mercier and Rosine Palomer, to Annabel Wheeler, the wife who wants Pearl to find the evidence she’s sure must exist that her husband has taken up once again with Frankie in the even more seductive persona of Faye.
The most obviously retro of Wassmer’s four Whitstable cozies is in some ways the most successful. The plot is highly serviceable, and if none of the characters is exactly original, several of them are as vivid as the golden age stereotypes they’re so clearly based on.