Her fourth outing (A Comedy of Heirs, 1999, etc.) finds genealogist Torie O'Shea visiting West Virginia coal mining country. Seven months pregnant, but still perky, she's accompanied by her scatterbrained but equally perky grandmother. Clarissa Hart, a friend of Torie's great-grandmother, has summoned them to Clarissa's boardinghouse for a reading of her will. It looks mighty suspicious when Torie is found standing over Clarissa's body holding a pillow-especially after the revelation that Clarissa's left Torie the historic boardinghouse. In Dickensian (but still perky) fashion, the family lawyer reveals that the will is brand-new, and newly high-tech: Clarissa e-mailed it to him, thwarting whoever tried to burn a copy of it. The new will provides more suspects: mysterious boarder Norville Gross receives $50,000, while Sherise Tyler, another boarder with undisclosed local ties, gets nothing. Clarissa's children-elderly country boy Lafayette, ne'er-do-well Edwin, and Appalachian princess Maribelle-prefer the old will. When Sheriff Justice (really) arrives, he discovers Norville Gross, apparently killed by a panther. As the sheriff interrogates Torie, she interrogates the past. Torie questions the boardinghouse inhabitants, her relatives, and the townspeople, enlisting a cousin's help at the local library. An 80-year-old lynching in the boardinghouse front yard suggests that great-grandma kept some deadly secrets. Torie will need all her research skills and an Appalachian deus ex machina (the boardinghouse elevator) to protect herself and her grandmother.
The past is more dramatic and plausible than the present, where nothing, certainly not murder, dampens Torie's perkiness.