Bringle's new story is set in a small peninsula town in Washington State, where oyster farming, environmental concerns, and gossip are the major occupations. Visiting this insular community is New York book editor Laura McAuley, vacationing at the Grey Whale Hotel, closed but recently bought by her longtime friends Claudia and Jack Arnold. Meanwhile, caretaker Jesse Paget clues Laura in to the locals she meets--hostile big-shot Ralph Henderson; rugged Althea, who reads tarot cards; postmistress Grace Best and her pot-smoking son Marty; self-appointed ecology-expert Teddy Vine; and hairdresser Wayne Cotton and his wife Dot, whose son is doing a long prison stretch for rape and murder. Laura's torn between the peaceful beauty of the area and the bad vibes she feels everywhere--climaxed when the Arnolds return and Claudia winds up dead in the middle of a town party. Police Deputy Bob Ludder labels it an accident--but it takes a lot of psychological mooning about, along with a series of contrived false alarms about Laura's safety, before another death solves the case. Unfocused plotting and an air of aimlessness make for dull patches, only partly offset by an interesting locale and some well-done characters. Lacks the crispness and finesse of the author's best work (Murder Most Gentrified, etc.).