California’s Charlotte (Charlie) Plato and handsome TV cowboy Zachary Hunter, her partner in CHAPS, a western-style bar and tavern, have rented the place for one night to Charlie’s best friend Savanna for her 20th high-school reunion. All is going well at the party, including several auctions for dates, when Charlie discovers the party’s honoree, 50-ish teacher Reina Diaz, in the ladies’ room—strangled and clutching a photograph of her much younger self. Savanna’s husband, Police Detective Taylor Bristow, is conveniently on hand to take charge, while Charlie, who’s been down this road before (Don’t Forget to Die, 1999, etc.), starts to investigate on her own. It’s unremarkable that Reina was getting anonymous phone calls and unsigned deliveries of roses; far more startling is the news that 20 years before she had given birth to a daughter she would never see again. Charlie talks to the alumni—Kalesha Jones, the African-American wife of Welsh doctor Owen Jones; businessman Forrest Kenyon; and pastor Thad O’Connor, among others—seeking a motive that turns out to lie deep in the past. It takes her best efforts, and a little help from Zach, to dredge up the unconvincing solution.
Very little here has the power to convince. All the characters, including Charlie, seem as unreal as the blithe, upbeat narration and the muddled plot. Charlie has done better—and so can you.