Sanibel fishing guide/private eye Hannah Smith confronts a ghost from her mother’s colorful past and an even more primeval threat to Florida citrus.
The ghost is that of Harney Chatham, the state’s former lieutenant governor, who was certainly alive when he entered Loretta Smith’s bedroom to continue his decadeslong affair with her but died before he could tuck in his shirt again. Reggie, the chauffeur who seems to know where all the bodies are buried, enlists Hannah’s unwilling help in avoiding a scandal by moving the corpse to the Salt Creek Gun Club, a place so closely associated with Chatham that it would be a perfect spot for his reported death if Hannah (Haunted, 2014, etc.) and Reggie didn’t run into Kermit Bigalow, who manages the club’s orange groves, and Lonnie Chatham, the wife who doesn’t know she’s now a widow. Hannah, who never wanted anything to do with her mother’s longtime lover, now finds herself committed to a series of awkward lies and to responding, through her even more unwelcome new connections to Kermit and Lonnie, to a statewide disaster that’s already threatened her own modest grove: a mysterious ailment that’s stricken orange trees throughout the Sunshine State. The only remedy, it seems, are some pre-Columbian trees growing deep in a mangrove swamp that Kermit, working with a process he hopes to patent, can use to bring new hope to the beleaguered orange crop. Even to enter that swamp is an ordeal; once inside, Hannah must contend with some formidable adversaries, some of them human.
Despite the disjunction between the sharply drawn threats and the heroine’s modest detective skills, her fourth outing may be her best to date, with a particularly effective climactic sequence that knots together every menace, and every sorrow, she faces.