More dire doings in Pickax (``400 miles north of everywhere''), where bachelor zillionaire Jim Qwilleran keeps a paternalistic eye on the town from his opulent barn house and his columnist job on Moose County Something, the local paper. Pickax has been saddened by the death of 93-year-old recluse Maude Coggin in a supposedly accidental fire in her decrepit house soon after she'd sold her hundred-acre farm, at a giveaway price, to buyers called Northern Land Improvement. Qwill's suspicions of this deal, reinforced by prescient cats Koko and Yum Yum, lead to his finding the company nonexistent. Some big-time chicanery is afoot, not to mention other odd happenings: a break-in and theft at the recently opened art center; an old scandal new to Qwill; the misgivings of boutique owner Elizabeth Hart about her boyfriend Derek's being offered a job as manager of Chet's Barbecuea downscale bar owned by town councilman Chet Ramsbottom. And then there's young butterfly-breeder Phoebe Sloan, whose unsavory boyfriend Jake is bartender at Chet's. When the town's major annual event takes placeit's a spelling beePhoebe is missing from her team. With help from Qwill and, of course, Koko and Yum Yum, the discovery of her body in Bloody Creek brings about the downfall of Pickax's corrupting elements. Braun's terminally arch mixture (The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, 1997, etc.) is even more extreme than before as confusion reigns, characters proliferate, and Qwill, with his second-sighted assistants, once more solves Pickax's problems.