A crafty killer lurks among the prized collectibles of the local flea market in the fifth in Toni L.P. Kelner’s mystery series.
There’s nothing Laura Fleming’s Southern family likes better than a get-together, and cousin Augustus returning from the army is a perfect reason to gather for a party in Byerly, North Carolina. While Laura and her scholar husband, Richard, are in town, her formidable great-aunt Maggie has an assignment in mind.
Carney Alexander was recently found dead under his own table at Tight as a Tick Flea Market, where Aunt Maggie is a regular dealer. She and the other vendors weren’t overly fond of Carney—general opinion is that the man was nosy, ornery, and had a mean streak a mile wide. Why Aunt Maggie is so intent on solving the crime is a mystery in its own right, but Laura can’t let her down. The flea market’s regulars prove as colorful and quirky as the goods they offer, and plenty had reason for wanting to see Carney and his stall shut down permanently. But locating the genuine article among a slew of motives won’t be easy—especially with the killer in the market for another victim…
As she did in Country Comes to Town (1996), Kelner pins a humorous mystery on the contrast between Yankee and Southern habits. This time out, Boston's Laura Fleming and her husband, Richard, a professor, are visiting her relatives in Byerly, N.C., where Laura's great-aunt Maggie maintains a weekend booth at the Tight As a Tick Flea Market. The visit turns nasty when the body of Carney Alexander, the knife dealer in the booth next to Maggie's, is found dead under the sheet used to cover his wares when the market is closed. After the police decide it was a random killing, Maggie calls on her niece to solve the crime. Laura, of course, takes the bait. Going undercover as prospective flea market dealers, she and Richard get to know the other vendors and ask questions about the unpopular Carney. They discover a slew of potential suspects, each with a reason for hating the knife dealer, who, among other things, called the health department to report that the tattoo artist used dirty needles and the dwarf's concession stand was infested with bugs. Laura feels she's getting nowhere, but when a busybody dealer who looks from the back a lot like Aunt Maggie is knocked unconscious, she and Richard burrow deeper, finally solving the crimes. Kelner's Laura is an enjoyable, gently sarcastic narrator whose amusement at the down-home style of rural Byerly will be shared by most readers.