Everyone wants a piece of beautiful Cumberland Island. The Feds long to turn it into a national park, bringing in 2,000 visitors a day to gawk at the egrets, turtles, deer, wild horses, and pigs. The developers want to toss up condos where the wealthy can overlook water and wildlife. Standing—or, rather, lying—in their way is bedridden MS sufferer Hannah Hill, who owns 90% of the island and wants to keep it a nature sanctuary. She begs her nephew, Alderton University archivist Ben Reese (Pursuit and Persuasion, etc., not reviewed), to help, but before he makes more than a phone call, someone sprays Streptococcus pneumoniae around Hannah’s bed, then smothers her. Her loving surrogate daughter Johanna, a neophyte opera singer, is distraught, which is more than can be said for her daughter Mary, who thinks she’ll inherit, marry, and enjoy big-city life ever after, and her plain, pudgy, untalented niece Leah, who’s always been jealous of Johanna. Estelle, the family cook, once a surgical nurse under another name, is just thankful Miz Hannah is now out of her MS misery. By the time Ben sorts through the family connections, evaluates an art collection for his university, and reconnects with his best friend’s widow, the killer is confronting Johanna at the ruin of the old family mansion.
Too many interior monologues take too many characters’ emotional temperatures, and the killer’s descent into madness is way over the top. But readers will fall in love with the beauty of Cumberland.