Summoned by her old friend, retired North Carolina schoolteacher Eileen Hollowell, Mavis Lashley boards a tour bus to the Dolly Parton museum and an utterly extraneous opening chapter before alighting in Monroeville, where Eileen is planning to turn the house she shared with her late husband into a bed-and-breakfast. But the course of commerce doesn’t always run smooth, and Eileen’s already had a full complement of pre-opening traumas: a note in her mailbox warning her not to open her establishment, a fire near the woodshed, a break in the pipe bringing water from the spring, blood smeared on the B&B’s sign. Mavis’s arrival does nothing to stem the dire tide. Someone decapitates the ducks Eileen’s retarded adult son Claude keeps, smashes the bottles Eileen’s been collecting for a lifetime, and finally strangles Brenda Trull, a neighbor girl and former student who’d been helping Eileen. Sheriff Lee Rhodes seems at first to suspect Claude, but there’s evidently no pressure on him to make an arrest; the closest Nordan (Death Beneath the Christmas Tree, not reviewed, etc.) comes to high drama is the news that the mother of one of Eileen’s students had horsewhipped the teacher many years ago, and a present-day spat between Eileen and her good-for-nothing granddaughter Tara.
Otherwise, this routine fourth case for senior-citizen Mavis and her nice young photographer nephew Dale Sumner is troubled by no more tension than the idylls of Anne George or Jill Churchill, and rather less than a typical, non-homicidal day in most real-life bed-and-breakfasts.