by Beth Gutcheon
Publisher: William Morrow (May 10, 2016)
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From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing, More Than You Know, and Gossip comes the first entry in a stylish and witty mystery series featuring a pair of unlikely investigators—a shrewd novel of manners with a dark heart of murder at its center, set in small-town New England.
Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.
Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.
But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.
Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.
Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.
“When your picture’s being taken, don’t you always wonder if it’s the one that will run with your obituary?”
“His mother was one of those women with the impact of a battleship; you could see her coming like the prow of the USS Nimitz… It mattered little that he knew the objects of his terror thought of themselves as good-natured middle-aged women, salt of the earth and beloved of the young.”
“Some of us are content and at ease in the worlds we are born to, and some of us know we’ve been raised by wolves and take decades to find our true native landscapes. There is no point in trying to explain this to the wolves.”
I was captivated by this story and adored the author’s smartly written and ingenious plot from start to finish. The genre is a bit of a hybrid – part women’s fiction, part cozy mystery that wasn’t so cozy, and it could also fall into literary fiction. I personally classify it as superb and a total treat to read. The story was clever, enthralling, and highly entertaining. I reveled in the dry and sneaky humor and frequently smirked, snorted, and barked aloud. It was deftly written, well paced, and keenly detailed with amusing and insightful tidbits that presented a veritable smorgasbord of information, which either had me chortling with glee or was tugging at my heartstrings. There was a large cast of varied characters with no one being quite what they seemed. Each character had either a rather difficult or quirky personality, with even the lesser appealing or limited characters being rather complex at their core once they had been fully fleshed out. I was fascinated as the layers were peeled back, and while I was completely satisfied by the conclusion, I am typically greedy with excellent writing, so I still wanted more.
About Beth Gutcheon
Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of eight previous novels: The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, Five Fortunes, More Than You Know, Leeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.