Farberville, Arkansas is playing host to its first ever mystery convention. Sponsored by the Thurber Farber Foundation and held at Farber College, Murder Comes to Campus is playing host to five major mystery writers representing all areas of the field. Dragooned into running the show when the original organizer is hospitalized, local bookseller Claire Malloy finds herself in the midst of a barely controlled disaster. Not only do each of the writers present their own set of idiosyncracies and difficulties (including one who arrives with her cat Wimple in tow), the feared, distrusted, and disliked mystery editor of Paradigm House, Roxanne Small, puts in a surprise appearance at the conference. Added to Claire's own love-life woes with local police detective Peter Rosen, things have never been worse.
Then when one of the attendees dies in a suspicious car accident, Wimple the cat disappears from Claire's home, and Roxanne Small is nowhere to be found, it becomes evident that the murder mystery is more than a literary genre.
Bookseller Claire Malloy returns for her lucky 13th outing in another slyly satirical whodunit from Hess (A Holly Jolly Murder; the Maggody series). As the person in charge of the first mystery convention to be held at Farber College in Farberville, Ark., Claire faces numerous challenges keeping the participating authors happy. Laureen Parks, doyenne of the romantic suspense novel, is cranky because she can't smoke at the Azalea Inn, where everyone is domiciled. Sherry Lynne Blackstone, queen of the kitty cozy, has her fur ruffled because the inn doesn't allow pets. Dilys Knoxweed, writer of English mysteries, is stung by the insults from Walter Dahl, who pens poorly selling literary mysteries about heroes overwhelmed by their neuroses. Rounding out the list is Allegra Cruzetti, media darling and author of a runaway bestseller. As if the situation weren't fraught with enough potential disaster, obnoxious editor Roxanne Small, who has a personal connection to each of the writers, shows up to surprise them. When a conference attendee dies a seemingly accidental death and Roxanne ends up dead in a cistern, Claire once again turns sleuth to save the day. Juggling the problems of her relationship with Farberville detective Peter Rosen while sniffing out the truth proves no easy matter, but the witty, pithy Claire is equal to the task. Offering a teasingly intricate puzzle along with some zinging satire of current publishing trends, Hess has produced another first-rate mystery. Regional author tour.