It’s been five years since prodigious preteen sleuth Emma Graham debuted in Hotel Paradise (1996), but this equally appealing sequel from Richard Jury’s creator (The Lamorna Wink, 1999, etc.) is set only a week later.
Not that it hasn’t been an eventful week. Ben Queen, who served 20 years for shooting his wife Rose to death only to be accused of killing his daughter Fern shortly after his release from prison, is still on the run; Sam DeGheyn, the kindly sheriff of La Porte, Maryland, is still equally incapable of catching him; and Emma, part-time waitress at her family’s moldering hotel, is still firmly convinced of his innocence. In order to vindicate Ben, Emma has to go back not merely a generation to Rose’s death, but two generations to the drowning of Mary-Evelyn Devereau, niece of Rose’s three half-sisters. Feeling an uncanny kinship with Mary-Evelyn, who died at her own age of 12, Emma is still darting off from the Hotel Paradise to search long-abandoned houses for clues and seek out ancient witnesses, some of them seeming equally abandoned, for evidence. Her interrogation tactics are formidably ingenious. Ferried around town by a skeptical cabbie, she asks polite questions on behalf of nonexistent relatives, pretends she’s interviewing locals for a class project, and even purchases 50 pounds of fertilizer in the hope of establishing Ben’s alibi for Rose’s murder. Making the best of her mother’s absence in Florida, Emma returns to the hotel only often enough to taint a fussy boarder’s meals in ever more inventive ways and join rehearsals for her brother Will’s musical production of Medea—a choice that’s more appropriate than she knows—en route to a finale that will show just how fatal her resemblance to Mary-Evelyn can be.
A tour de force whose cobwebby little mystery, less sequel than remake, is fleshed out with dozens of memorably Dickensian grotesques.