With DARE TO DIE, Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand Mystery series continues the misadventures of Annie and Max Darling, the couple who lands in the dead center of yet another murder. Nearing the end of an intense restoration of the Franklin house, their antebellum project and soon-to-be new home, Max plans a welcoming party. Broward's Rock, his South Carolina Low Country island home, will host a full evening of food, music and drink for neighbors and friends. Undaunted by water damage to the Franklin house remodel, Max rents the Harbor pavilion.
Anticipation of the gala at the Harbor elicits mixed reactions among the guests who have been invited, close friends of the Darlings. A well-to-do product of Broward's Rock, Max has gathered long-time "tennis club" associates into his and Annie's social circle. But a mysterious young woman arrives this day. "She comes in the rain, alone, on a bicycle."
Iris is a former island resident, long removed in time and place from her past life as a teenager here. She has dealt with personal demons --- drugs, alcohol and homelessness --- but returns to cleanse the memory of a night when her dear friend, Jocelyn, dies. She must discover the truth.
Meanwhile, Annie tends to business at her bookstore, Death on Demand. She welcomes local mystery writer Emma Clyde, who has developed a case of writer's block. While sympathizing with Emma's dilemma, Annie's plans change when her manager, Ingrid, is called out of town for a family medical emergency. Ingrid and Duane own Nightingale Courts, the local motel. Annie offers that the Darlings stay at the Courts and tidy up cabins for Ingrid's guests. Besides, she and Max need a temporary home until their new one is livable. Iris is the lone resident this weekend at Nightingale Courts. Emma overhears the talk and perks up at the thought of a girl on a bike who has just arrived, perhaps a storyline for her new book. Emma goes to the motel, carries an armful of towels to Iris's room on pretense of being a maid. Snooping for her book's plot seems a normal occurrence. However, she takes a nasty fall and lands in the hospital with partial amnesia.
In the course of housekeeping at Nightingale Courts, Annie visits with the shy Iris, lends her a suit for a swim and invites her to their party that evening. She is certain that Iris will renew old acquaintances among the good friends who will attend. Finally, party time arrives, punctuated by a sinister event: Iris's murder in the woods at the Pavilion's edge.
Now the Darlings trust no one, especially none of the couples they've befriended. These friends comprised the tight group as teens who ran with Iris, her pal Jocelyn, and Jocelyn's brother. Annie promises not to interfere with the local investigation, but breaks that vow when she and Max are victims of arson at the motel. Shaken, with Max's feet burned, Annie's mission focuses on their attacker.
Annie assists Billy, the local sheriff, in finding out where Fran, Buck, Russell, Liz and Cara were at the time Iris disappeared. Their whereabouts will likely explain Jocelyn's untimely death years before. Annie believes the two are connected.
Carolyn Hart's newest story fulfills a weekend's entertainment. My empathy, however, waned with Annie's stubbornness. Previous Death on Demand books evened the pair's involvement, which I found more desirable. Max is likable in DARE TO DIE, but Annie overshadows him. He is confined to a wheelchair during the latter chapters, a circumstance that might have been altered. Sleuthing in the formula of "Murder, She Wrote" tends to supposition rather than action.
Like earlier books in the series, DARE TO DIE follows the antics of a likable couple who solves mysteries in their secluded island home. The Death on Demand bookstore, as a setting element, completes the spice.
--- Reviewed by Judy Gigstad