This, the fifteenth book in this series, was my first experience with Katherine Hall Page's "Faith Fairchild" mysteries.
Ugh! There's no courtesy or consideration at all for a newcomer. KHP introduces, on average, one new character per page in the book's first 33 pages. After that, I got out a notebook to keep track. It's a 239 page book, in which the vast majority of characters - usually each with an alias or nickname or both - appear for no reason at all except, perhaps, to let Faith's fans know they're alive - such as her mother, father, sister, sister's child - while playing no role at all in this particular plot.
Example: Faith's nephew by her sister is Quentin Forbes Elliott III, and the author wants us to know that two Quentins in a family is too many, so they are going to call him Tertius, for being "the Third," except no, they need a nickname for that, too, so call him Terry. Three names for an infant who never, ever, appears in the book or has even an off-stage role. But the hapless reader doesn't know that on page twelve and so makes mental note of these three names the author has explicated with so much attention, all of which boil down to one (invisible, irrelevant) baby.
Again, only 239 pages, yet it takes KHP 225 pages before she mentions a significant character whose existence should have been broached, or at least foreshadowed, at least 200 pages earlier, right around page 22 or so. Please! What this book needs - and it's not a spoiler to say it - is one of those indices in the front matter of the book which Victorian novels used to contain, listing who's who.
I'd give it to you here, but I'd be typing all day. I had in fact planned to type it as part of this review, but there are (at least) SIXTY ONE characters, and again, most of them have several monikers which we are supposed to keep straight--not including references to "Mrs. Fairchild," which could refer to any of several females, or "Mr. Stafford," again, a name borne by more than one male. A significant female character is Joan, no, Joanie, no, Ophelia, no, really, Christine! All four names add up to one person.
For no sane reason at all, we are informed that not one but two of the kitchen staff are named "Alessandro" -- and very oddly, both of these individuals are female. KHP seems otherwise culturally sensitive, so why the gender error here? The kitchen staff are named but the names dribble out one at a time, leaving me consulting my cheat sheet each time to figure out if we'd seen this character before, and whether they tied into any of the action or were merely more human wallpaper. Names and pages: Juana, 81. Eduardo, 90. Alessandro, two of them, 91. Vincente, 165. Tomás, 188. But one of the Alessandro women is also called "Tiny," and the chef, John Forest, is also called Jean Forestier (briefly), and when Faith is in the kitchen, she goes by a Spanish nickname of her own. Please! More aliases than a spy novel, and more jumble of nationalities; there are Norwegians and Aussies, Peruvians and Bolivians, faux-French and so on.
This relentless naming, re-naming, and nicknaming was so irritating, it gave cover for the book's other flaws. The underlying political agenda was dated and clichéd--in short, new money is good, old money is better, and forty years after the 1960s, liberal hippie types are still evil. Oh, please.
To bring things to a conclusion, characters exhibit weird last-minute aberrations inconsistent with all that has gone before. We are to believe that Faith cares enough about an unrelated teen to stalk her on foot through the snowy woods and to pursue her by car all through the town--but is so careless of her own teen nephew that when he's been missing for hours, she takes a wild guess at where he is and blithely tells everyone her guess is fact--without making a single phone call to check, despite two murders at their resort in a single week and an epically ugly confrontation with his mother a couple of days prior when the boy had simply gone to lunch in company with four family members.
I thought the interfamily tensions were well done as far as the anger between Faith and her sisters-in-law, and the raging hysteria of one woman about controlling her teen sons. If the cast of characters had been cut 60%, and everyone limited to two names at most, this would have been a lot more pleasant. The opening scenes with Boyd Harrison were particularly well-written. Clearly, KHP has great skill with character exposition, when she takes the time to do it instead of promiscuously breeding a surfeit of pointless - but alas, not nameless - characters.