A coffin as a birthday gift is either a bizarre joke or a very bad omen.
Every aspect of Faith Fairchild’s life in lovely Aleford, Massachusetts, is about to cause her trouble. Her college-bound son Ben’s girlfriend, who tells him she needs some space, has unfriended him on Facebook. Her best friend Pix’s daughter has lost her job and her boyfriend and moved home. Pix’s widowed mother is dating a man whose motives are suspect. The town council, whose members include Faith’s minister husband, is divided over a proposal to put in a strip mall. But these problems fade away when Faith receives a call from Max Dane, once a famous Broadway producer, offering her an outrageous amount to cater a weekendlong birthday party for a dozen people at his nearby estate. Arriving at Max’s mansion to discuss the arrangements, she meets his attractive jack-of-all-trades, Ian Morrison, who will help her cater to the guests. Although Max does indeed want to throw a birthday party, he’s actually hiring Faith for her talents as an amateur sleuth (The Body in the Wardrobe, 2016, etc.) because he’s sure one of his guests has sent him a coffin containing a Playbill from his 20-year-old production of Heaven or Hell: The Musical. The play was a flop that wrecked the careers of many associated with it, and all his invited guests had a part in the disaster. After giving Faith a tour of the magnificent house, Max reveals that it was the home of his mother’s wealthy family, who cast her off when she married beneath her. They continued to invite the younger Max to stay every year, but his visits had proved so awful they were practically abusive. Although two of his guests die before the party, the rest arrive on time. Can Faith figure out which of them harbors thoughts of murder before the deed is done?
The mystery, though surprising enough, is outshone by family problems, detailed descriptions of the setting, and devilishly delicious food.