Quintessential mom in tennis shoes Jane Jeffrey is once again thrust into a murder investigation, but this time the murderer is very close to home indeed. In The Merchant of Menace, the 10th of the series by Jill Churchill, Jane finds herself in the midst of the Christmas rush and hosting two celebrations back-to-back: neighborhood caroling party one evening and a cookie exchange the following day. The two gatherings are meant to bring the community together, but when a TV reporter is found dead during the singing, it becomes obvious that at least one of the neighbors is harboring something besides goodwill towards men. As Jane and her coconspirator Shelly explore just who might have reason to shove someone off a roof, their sleepy suburb (Chicago is the ostensible nearby city, but the setting could be anywhere there is snow in December) suddenly steams with secrets.
Churchill has done well with this cozy series in which each title is a play on words of a more illustrious piece of literature. The Merchant of Menace fits into the mold: a witty and gentle dose of murder and mayhem coupled with a wry appreciation for the terrors of suburban parenting (teaching teenagers to drive, helping with the homework, meeting the prospective in-laws) and middle-aged romance. The travails of Shylock are perhaps too oppressive for most Christmas readers, but The Merchant of Menace is certainly suitable for passing around with the Christmas cookies and holiday punch. --K. Crouch
It's the Yuletide season, and widowed Jane Jeffry has her hands full in this 10th installment of the punningly titled series (Fear of Frying, 1997). Not only is Jane hosting two neighborhood parties, but she will meet the mother of her significant other, police detective Mel, for the first time. Adding to the holiday confusion, the Johnsons move in next door and go overboard lighting up their entire house with garish Christmas decorations. Trying to be helpful, one of Jane's friends invites intrusive and often inaccurate TV reporter Lance King to Jane's caroling party. Appalled, Jane makes the woman rescind the invitationAbut to no avail as Lance shows up anyway, intimating that he has a shocking disclosure to make about one of Jane's neighbors. Before he can spill the beans, however, Lance is pushed to his death from the Johnsons roof. Jane and her best friend, Shelley, much to Mel's dismay, decide to find out who had a secret so dire that they'd murder Lance to keep it quiet. The friends unearth a slew of suspects, and all the while, Jane dodges the potential disasters associated with hosting holiday events and entertaining a potential mother-in-law while keeping track of her own three children. In the end, levelheaded, redoubtable Jane weathers the storms, identifies the killer and manages to have a happy holiday season as well. This is standard, lighthearted caper fare from the ableAand very popularAChurchill. Agent, Faith Childs.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.