Someone is playing a rather nasty April Fool's prank on mystery bookstore owner Annie Darling. A felonious forger on the idyllic -- if rarely tranquil -- South Carolina island of Broward's Rock has made it appear as if Annie is accusing some of her neighbors of murder. In the wink of a bloodshot eye, the Darling name is mud . . . and then the Broward's Rock body count starts mysteriously increasing. And now it's up to Annie to follow the well-hidden trail of the vicious trickster -- or a secret slayer's next lethal "joke" may very well be on her!
In Hart's 13th winning outing (after 2000's Sugar Plum Dead) to feature Annie Darling, the owner of Death on Demand Bookstore, "the best mystery bookstore east of Atlanta," has planned the signing to end all signings for a local writer on their South Carolina island. But someone produces fake copies of publicity flyers for the signing and sets a cat among the pigeons to solve some old crimes and settle some old scores. Annie and her charming husband, Max, hasten to salvage the shop's event and Annie's reputation. Their efforts to resolve the mystery of the bogus flyers bring to light clues to several unsolved crimes. A high school teacher subsequently turns up dead. Was the murder committed to keep old secrets buried, or is a new onslaught of crime just beginning? A serpentine plot includes plenty of red herrings to lead the armchair sleuth firmly in the wrong direction. The descriptions of wildlife add to the sense of place, but neither advance the story nor illuminate the characters. Established readers will relish the usual banter between the couple that evokes classic screwball comedy, though at times the author can be overly formulaic. Max is always "sexy as hell." "Hell" and "damn" are about as strong as the language gets, by the way. If cats play only a minor role here, their presence on the jacket will help lure those cozy fans not already familiar with this consistently fine series. 5-city author tour. FYI:Hart is also the author ofResort to Murder (Forecasts, Mar. 12, 2001) and other titles in the Henrie O series.