Claire Malloy, for as long as she can remember, has been the local bookseller and owner of the Book Depot and the widowed mother of teenage Caron, who frequently speaks in ALL CAPS. But her life has changed dramatically in recent years. Claire has married her longtime beau, Deputy Police Chief Peter Rosen. Still the owner of the Book Depot, Claire has passed the day-to-day running of it on to her very efficient employees. With Caron inching ever closer to college, there's but one thing that remains steadfastly unchanged—Claire's astonishing ability to attract, find, or even just randomly stumble across trouble.
Summoned for jury duty, the prosecutor on a murder case, harboring a grudge against her husband, decides to humiliate Claire and dismiss her. Having done so in spectacular enough fashion to make the local news, Claire decides that revenge will be the next dish she serves. She hunts down the defendant in the case, a woman accused of murdering her husband, and offers to help prove her innocence. And not just because Claire wants to humiliate the prosecutor. There are only two problems. One—the defendant is looking guiltier by the minute. And two—the worst day imaginable has finally come: Claire's dreaded new mother-in-law is coming to visit and life in prison is starting to look good.
Agatha-finalist Hess smoothly blends humor and detecting in her 20th Claire Malloy mystery (after 2013's Murder as a Second Language). When belligerent prosecutor Edwin Wessell dismisses Claire from jury duty, the unfairness of it all drives her to investigate defendant Sarah Swift's alleged murder of her highly unpleasant husband, John Cunningham. Overwhelmed public defender Evan Toffle welcomes her snooping, and even Claire's new husband, Deputy Chief Peter Rosen of the Farberville, Ark., police department, is willing to help. Others are not so cooperative, and Claire encounters one dead end after another. Meanwhile, her high school age daughter, Caron, and Caron's sidekick, Inez Thornton, are on the trail of the ugly wedding gift that Peter's mother gave Peter and Claire. The gift must be found before a just-announced visit from Peter's mother which may be the worst family crisis Claire has ever had. Spending time with Claire and the other citizens of Farberville is always a treat.