Pink fluff, that gourmet treat concocted of Jell-O and Cool Whip, is the favorite snack of retired Palm Springs decorator Stewart Chaffee, but it’s also an excellent description of theater director Claire Gray’s second dalliance with murder—the murder of Stewart himself. The day after he deposits a mysterious document with Merrit Lloyd, his personal banker, Stewart and his wheelchair are crushed beneath the refrigerator where Bonnie Bahr, his home nurse, had stashed his latest supply of pink fluff. An automated camera at the entrance to Stewart’s gated home in Rancho Mirage has obligingly snapped photographs of every car that visited Stewart that fatal Monday morning, but in the absence of fingerprints at the scene or intimate knowledge of Stewart’s intimates, Palm Springs Detective Larry Knoll aptly remarks, not for the first time (Desert Autumn, 2001): “I’m man enough to admit it—I could use Claire’s help.” Tearing herself away from final rehearsals for that gossipy classic Laura, Claire effortlessly summarizes every suspect’s age, physical appearance, and sexual orientation; gives all her information-rich colleagues in and around Desert Arts College the opportunity to dispense educational discourses on the meaning of a painting’s provenance and the difference between fine and applied arts; and comes up with the sudden brainwave that solves the case.
Claire’s clever solution, however, arrives only after endless shoals of red herrings—including one that requires intervention by publisher/sleuth Mark Manning, visiting from Craft’s other series (Hot Spot, p. 615, etc.)—so fragrant that they can only be marking time until the curtain’s ready to fall.