As this novel opens, it has been just a couple of weeks since the events depicted in the last novel, Stabbing Stephanie. But more important that that or that it is almost Christmas is the fact that it has been a little over two years since the events in Missing Marlene, the first Jane Stuart cozy mystery. Having not heard from her since, Ivy (Marlene's mother) is back for a short time.
As this is a series, I am going to be forced to reveal some details but as always will try to limit the damage for those who have not read the earlier books. In Missing Marlene, Ivy and Jane Stuart had a terrible falling out. Ivy and Jane had been roommates in College and still considered themselves best friends these many years later. Though separated and going through many life changes, they still kept in contact. Marlene was Ivy's daughter and soon after arriving in town to be a nanny to Nick, Jane's son, Marlene vanished and was later found dead. Despite the fact that Marlene was responsible for what happened to her by dealing with some unsavory types, Ivy blamed Jane for her death as well as a laundry list of other issues and ended the friendship.
Truth be told, Jane was somewhat relieved that the friendship ended as she had slowly come to the realization that Ivy was using their friendship as leverage against Jane for whatever she wanted at the moment. But guilt and a deep sense of wanting people in her life to be happy drives Jane and when Ivy suddenly arrives in town, Jane goes once again against her gut feelings. She allows Ivy to shoulder her way back into her life and her home. Soon she learns that Ivy now lives in New York City, a short distance away and has stared a new job and new career. She also has a new boyfriend in her life, John Baglieri. But, as expected, John is not at all what he says he is and neither is their relationship.
Soon after Ivy's arrival, Rhoda Kagan and Adam Forrest visit Jane at her literary agency. Adam is the new owner of Mt. Munsee Lodge located at the top of Mt. Munsee. Adam is trying something different in that he is trying to keep the lodge open during the winter off-season. He is doing it by offering weeklong stays on different themes. But he is in a bind as he has had a sudden cancellation and now has an idea to pitch to Jane. He wants her to organize a sort of writer's retreat for the week between Christmas and New Years using the local writers group and her publishing contacts. While Jane had planned to relax, she soon agrees and with her contacts it does not take long to get things organized.
She also agrees because it will give her a break from Ivy who has already obliviously worn out her welcome. But, Ivy insists that she be allowed to come and after Jane agrees, manages to get her boyfriend John invited along as well. Within minutes of arriving at the retreat the couple soon makes their influence felt by all participants. Almost from the start, the conference disintegrates in literary snobbishness and innuendo and before long, Ivy is dead and the conference is disbanded.
Jane begins to nose around and discovers that amidst all the authors and publishing types, the usual themes of greed and jealousy have taken their toll with more than one perched on the thin edge of madness. This forth novel in the series is another enjoyable read featuring Jane Stuart and the various expected characters, both human and feline. After four books, these characters are like old friends and with no new real ground plowed here in terms of character development, a few dangling problems and themes are cleared up.
As noted in the earlier books, with his personal experience as a novelist, writing teacher and running his own literary agency, Mr. Marshall interweaves a secondary message for those interested in writing as a career. The series is worth reading, if not for anything else, for those literary authors that Jane represents and comes into contact with and how she handles their demands. Those short segments often provide laugh out loud reader reaction and are a key component of the series. This book as the others in the series is a fun, lightweight mystery.