The perfect wedding gift: strychnine for the bride.
What’s keeping the bride? It turns out to be a fatal case of indigestion caused by a cup of herbal tea laced with poison. Stella Lavender, currently handling undercover drug busts for North Carolina law enforcement but yearning for a transfer to Homicide, is on the spot to find out whodunit and why after her granny, Fern, invites her to the nuptials at the Rosscairn Castle Bed & Breakfast. Wyatt, the innkeeper, insists it’s all a plot to close him down. He cites the maple syrup in the air-conditioner compressor, the ammonia in the water softener, the dead raccoon in the driveway and the spray painting on the inn sign. But Stella, relying on computer input from her ex and chats with the bridal party, uncovers several other motives for killing Justine, including the fact that before she started calling herself Justine and had gender reassignment surgery, she was named John. Did the groom know? Did his parents, who operated an ultraconservative online church ministry? Did his sister and her gay partner? Did the best man, whose wife died of anaphylactic shock at a picnic six months before? Did the couple who filed a $1 million lawsuit against the birthing center where Justine worked? While she’s sorting through all the possibilities and sexual proclivities among the attendees, Stella’s undercover drug buys put her and her flirtatious granny in jeopardy, necessitating a short stay at a neighboring B&B, whose owner loathes Wyatt even though her son works for him. There’ll be one more fatality before a commitment ceremony and a sperm-donor pregnancy conclude Stella’s first murder case.
The best thing about this debut is the chili recipe (tried and tasted) that ends it.