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Like Murder R.F.D. (1978), this second case for sweet, easygoing family man Sgt. David Putnam (one-third of the police force in Hampford, Mass.) is full of low-key charm and character appeal--enough so to pretty well compensate for an only passable, rather rickety plot. The distressing murder victim is 80-year. old Eunice Stockbridge, wealthy matriarch of an old local clan--whose apparently natural demise turns out to be suffocation-by-pillow. Lots of suspects are on hand at the family's summer manse, of course: Eunice's adopted son Paul, a young playboy sort; her middle-aged nephews (one a shady alcoholic) and niece; her great-nephew Lance, a ne'er-do-well in financial straits; and her great-niece Mary Lou, a spunky troll of a youngish spinster who wins over Sgt. Putnam and his family. But suspicion also falls on a cult (the ""Blossoms of God"") that's in residence down the road. And what about a lurking, hulking stranger who's been spotted by the ever-observant Mary Lou? As becomes clear a bit too early on, the solution won't surface until Putnam has looked into the past to get the true details on Paul Stockbridge's adoption; the red herrings here are therefore pretty much a washout. The cast of characters, however, is a trim yet varied delight--from surly family retainers to Marple-ish town gossips to Putnam's doltish sidekick. So anyone on the lookout for a small, engaging serving of New England mystery-comedy will find this a modest pleaser indeed--and will hope that Stephan won't wait another eight years before sending out another report from Hampford, Mass.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's