A professional couple asked to solve a missing-object mystery stumbles into a murder investigation.
Psychologist Constance Leidl and husband Charlie Meiklejohn are hired by members of Howard Bainbridge’s family to find a cache of $5 million in cashier’s checks, allegedly hidden by him in his home prior to his demise. An FBI-trained detective agency already failed to find the checks. But Constance and Charlie have cracked a few hard nuts in the past, and so they head to the college town of Stillwater to begin their search. Interested parties include Howard’s sister, Tricia Corning; her nephew, Stuart; Stuart’s stepmother, Pamela; and college president Dr. Debra Rasmussen, among others. According to local lore, the “Bainbridge curse” is responsible for the death or disappearance of several women, including Howard’s fiancée, who drowned in a tragic boating accident. Although once on cordial terms with his family, Howard cut them off after her death; hiding the money may be his ultimate beyond-the-grave revenge. Soon, two more people are dead, perhaps due to the curse, and the search for the checks becomes but one component in a larger puzzle. The author writes in a smooth, crisp style, with great economy, using a minimum number of words to establish character and setting in a relatively short piece. None of the characters seems interchangeable; even the minor player who runs a local B&B has a distinct manner of speaking. Along the way, there are some winding plot twists, one of which involves one-hit literary wonder Earl Marshall. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly captivating about this group of estranged relatives anxious to bag some bucks. The story, although plausible, lacks suspense. Central to the plot are long-married Constance and Charlie, sexually attuned and able to artfully blend their styles and skill sets to get the answers. Through their respective methods, they deftly manage to crack the veneer of a dysfunctional family, unearthing more than one family secret in the process. But the murder motive and an inexplicable act of carelessness on the part of the murderer early in the tale don’t quite hold together well. Nonetheless, solid writing and a smooth presentation make this tale worth a look for mystery buffs.
Credible with well-defined characters and more hits than misses.