Fortified by his two-volume sojourn among the Puzzle Lady and her neighbors in Bakerhaven, Connecticut (Last Puzzle and Testament, 2000, etc.), Hall plucks personal-injury shamus Stanley Hastings from Gotham’s mean streets, where his clients are forever slipping and falling, and packs him off on vacation in bucolic New Hampshire, where the leading activities are hiking, dining, swimming, and murder. No sooner has Stanley caught attractive Christine Cobb, first glimpsed hiking in Champney Falls with her boyfriend Lars Heinrick, kissing Dartmouth busboy Randy Winthrop outside Blue Frog Pond, Randy’s parents’ B&B (though perhaps, as Stanley’s wife Alice insists, it’s really an inn), than she’s fatally poisoned at dinner in front of half a dozen gossipy witnesses who didn’t see a thing. After subjecting Stanley to interminable pages of cross-examination about what he saw in the dining room and how many times he and Alice got up from their table, plodding Chief Pinehurst arrests Florence Baker, whose marriage had fallen victim to one of Christine’s earlier flirtations. But Stanley, noting the isolated setting, the genteel suspects, the incompetent cop, and the universal obsession with recipes (three of which are faithfully reprinted), accurately predicts that Max, the Blue Frog’s resident cat, will solve the case.
As always, Hall, though no very subtle parodist of the cozy whodunit, provides a smart pace and some gossamer fun. But the one-dimensional suspects and labored, inconsequential detection make Stanley’s earlier adventures (Suspense, 1998, etc.) look downright substantial by comparison.