Murder is the main course at a fancy-dress fundraiser.
Emily Cavanaugh had an attendant fairy at her christening. She was named for one of the Brontë sisters and flourished for years as a literature professor at Reed College. Now, a substantial legacy has encouraged her to contemplate retiring, readjusting from cosmopolitan Portland to small-town life near the village of Stony Beach, and sharing her good fortune by turning her inherited Victorian house into a writers’ retreat. Emily relies on Katie Parker, the young housekeeper she loves almost like a daughter, whose own infant daughter is as good as a grandchild. But the renovation team, headed by a contractor who doubles as a fire-and-brimstone preacher, causes more than the usual construction woes. The renovators include both a Heathcliff-ian classmate of Katie’s and his rival, rich, spoiled bad boy Jake Newhouse, who fathered Katie’s baby. To help pay for the mounting costs of building a local clinic, Emily assents to Katie’s plan to hold a $100 per plate dinner at which some of the “guests” will act out a murder. Understandably nervous, Emily invites Stony Beach’s sheriff and her rediscovered high school boyfriend, Luke Richards, to safeguard the event. With an overenthusiastic drama teacher directing the cast, a house with a secret staircase and a boarded-up chamber, and Jake playing the corpse, what, as one of the guests reassuringly chirps, could go wrong? Nothing except the far-too-obvious outcome of the murder play, a long list of suspects that includes Katie, a rift between Emily and Luke, dozens of pairs of dress gloves that need DNA testing, a couple of subsidiary crimes, and a plot that could have used fewer hints and more surprises.
This sequel to Arsenic with Austen (2016) is pleasant but predictable, with just enough intrigue to prevent it from becoming Zzzz’s with Zola.