Murder strikes yet another writers’ retreat.
Readers who anticipate a raucous tale of a poisoner who enlists New Jersey’s ex-governor as an accomplice will be sorely disappointed to see Hyde serve up that hoariest of chestnuts, a country-house murder. The house is Windy Corner Writers’ Retreat Center, an old Victorian mansion on the Oregon coast inherited by Reed College professor Emily Cavanaugh. Hoping to lure the next generation of Austens and Dostoevskys to create their masterworks in her library, Emily names each of the mansion’s many bedrooms after a literary titan. Windy Corner’s maiden effort at promoting literary greatness includes a Reed College adjunct who studies Forster’s “view of the individual in society, across all the novels,” a memoirist, a “well-known writer of highbrow mysteries,” a writer of cozies, and straight-outta-Paris Marguerite Grenier, Emily’s best friend, who talks to her pal in untranslated French. At first, memoirist Dustin Weaver looks like the obvious victim. He snubs the adjunct, ridicules the other writers, and scarfs down whatever alcohol he can find. (Since Emily’s too refined to keep whiskey in the house, he has to make do with the sherry she reserves for cocktail hour.) But the arrival of bestselling author Cruella Crime puts Weaver in his place. Ostentatiously mean, Cruella seems to have the goods on every member of the party and isn’t shy about slinging innuendoes. Enter the obligatory ice storm, and the trapped authors get to watch in horror as Cruella downs a cordial laced with cyanide during a game of charades. Emily’s long-suffering beau, Lt. Luke Richards, lands the task of finding out who killed Cruella as well as the honor of sleeping on Emily’s fold-out loveseat every night.
Hyde (Bloodstains with Bronte, 2017, etc.) invites her readers into a confined space that’s stuffy, not tense. Even her villain has no bite.