Her fourth mild adventure packs Whitstable restaurant owner and private detective Pearl Nolan (May Day Murder, 2018, etc.) off on a busman’s holiday to a newly opened resort where everything goes wrong, up to and including murder.
No wonder Dolly Nolan hasn’t told her daughter where she’s taking her or why. Now that the Villa Pellegrini, formerly a manor house on the banks of the Great Stour River, has just opened its doors, Dolly has agreed to help her old friend Marshall Taylor and his goddaughter, recently divorced Simona Cartwright, ensure the success of their new venture by asking Pearl to help publicize celebrity chef Nico Caruso’s cooking course, in which Dolly has thoughtfully enrolled her sputtering daughter. In return, the Nolans will pay nothing for their stay. The paying customers, including property developer Layla Bright, her partner and fiance, Steven Sparkes, allergy-prone Anemone Broadbent, high-maintenance sexpot Georgina Strang, and travel writer Frank Ellis, are every bit as boring as they sound, but welcome complications are provided by Simona’s abusive ex-husband, Jake Rhys, who turns up uninvited and instantly displays the behavior that got Simona to secure a restraining order against him. By the next morning his temper has been cooled by whomever knocked him out with a cooking mallet and dumped him in the new walk-in freezer. A second murder that’s equally unsurprising but considerably less satisfying makes Pearl more determined than ever to track down the killer, preferably in tandem with DCI Mike McGuire, with whom she’d love to come to an understanding deeper than an agreement over whodunit.
As usual in Wassmer’s books, the first movement is the best; things get distinctly more routine after the initial murder. Uprooted from her home turf, the heroine remains appealing in her low-key way, though it’s hard to imagine a more artificial setting for her labors than the Villa Pellegrini.