Dunlap (Fast Friends, 2004, etc.) launches a new series heroine: a stunt double whose crippling phobia leads her to a Zen monastery as troubled as she is.
A prologue shows Darcy Lott, who’s long been afraid of the woods, watching a friend and colleague nearly die when a stunt wire snaps, then making her own harrowing descent down to the forest (think Vertigo with trees instead of heights). Back in New York, Darcy tells her Zen master that she’s confronting her fear by enrolling in a sesshin, a two-week retreat the master’s former pupil Garson-roshi is running deep in California’s redwood forest. Darcy soon realizes that the retreat, the last Garson-roshi intends to lead on this site, has been poisoned by the mystery of Aeneas, a student who vanished six years ago after displaying an uncanny mastery of Zen discipline. Along with Garson-roshi, five other participants in that earlier retreat are back this year: recovering attorney Rob, ex-ballerina Maureen, scared young Amber, her friend Justin and chef Barry, who lives for chocolate. Which of them has literalized the poison by slipping cyanide into Garson-roshi’s cocoa, leaving him seriously ill but still in charge of the investigation?
Though the whodunit is overlong and predictable, Dunlap deftly explores the conflicts between Darcy’s appetite for answers and her deference to Garson-roshi, who seems determined that she leave every single stone unturned in searching for his assailant.