Accompanying her recently widowed mother, Hilda Finch, to Phoenix, the exclusive Virginia spa, Julliard-trained cellist Caroline Blessing is soon up to her neck in stardust, backbiting, and murder, courtesy of 13 female crime novelists. The complications that follow the discovery of Phoenix owner Claudia de Vries, strangled in a mud bath, are a lot bumpier than if any one writer had taken on the plot—it’s dispiriting to see contributors canceling out each other’s big revelations—but the bumps are smoothed by the recurrence of such universal themes as the difficulties of daughterhood, the envy of the thin and the blond, and the ubiquity of treacherous and gay males like Caroline’s impossibly good congressman husband. The perpetrators include Nevada Barr (a businesslike rundown of the hackneyed suspects), J.D. Robb, Nancy Pickard (a couple of sweet surprises), Lisa Scottoline (the best laugh lines), Perri O’Shaughnessy, J.A. Jance, Faye Kellerman, Mary Jane Clark, editor Talley, Anne Perry, Diana Gabaldon (a monster shocker), Val McDermid, and Laurie R. King (whose mop-up denouement is so comprehensive that it clears up problems that weren’t even problems). Readers indifferent to games of style and consistency can kick back and watch the Phoenix clients get picked off as the suspect pool approaches one little Indian.
Despite the title, with its easy echo of the collaborative Naked Came the Stranger and Naked Came the Manatee, the real model this time is much older Detection Club whodunits like The Floating Admiral, with the pleasures and perils, despite the cutting-edge trimmings, equally ’30s.