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An Amanda Pepper Mystery

By Gillian Roberts

Ballantine Books, 2007 ($23.95)
ISBN10: 0-345-48021-X
ISBN-13: 978-0345480217

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Amanda Pepper is willing to lend her friend Sasha moral support as she deals with the death of Phoebe Ennis, her favorite stepmother and friend. It's another matter when Sasha insists that Phoebe did not commit suicide or die of an accidental drug overdose, but that she was murdered. The authorities brush off Sasha's concerns, but she finally does convince Amanda that all is not as it seems. With a bit of arm twisting, Amanda enlists her hubby C.K. in the investigation.

Phoebe was a woman of big appetites, given to grand gestures and flights of fancy. Her family paid little attention to her claims that she was descended from royalty, and that she was in possession of a great treasure. Her modest home looks more like a combination flea market and pawn shop than a royal residence, but it soon becomes evident that somebody is looking for something that Phoebe possessed, and is willing to go to any lengths, including murder, to find it. There are plenty of suspects: Merilee Wilkins, Phoebe's business partner, who blames Phoebe for the failure of their venture; Merilee's estranged husband, who bankrolled the business; Phoebe's own son Dennis, a greedy, hateful jerk; and assorted ex-husbands, discarded suitors, psycho dating service hookups. . . the list goes on.

Amanda's life is in turmoil on several fronts. The students at Philly Prep have become caught up in the gambling fever sweeping the country, there is a petty thief skimming off the donations the students made for hurricane relief, and there are far too many kids who seem jaded, spoiled, bored with the whole school experience. She is rapidly approaching burnout with teaching, unable to keep her vow to "like-every-child" in her classroom. C.K. is having his own problems, worrying about and trying to help his relatives back in Louisiana as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina while keeping up with his graduate studies and his work at Bright's Detective Agency. Even with all that pressure, he does his best to help Amanda with Phoebe's case. Amanda must finally make a decision that will lead to major changes in their lives, changes that are good for their family, but bad for those of us who have come to know and love Ms. Pepper et al. through the years.

It is said that all good things must come to an end, and, sadly, this is the final volume in the Amanda Pepper series. At least for now. In a letter to her fans, Ms. Roberts, aka Judith Greber, says that "after two decades of juggling crime and the classroom, [Amanda] is being given a respite" and that this book "will be her farewell encounter with crime, at least for the foreseeable future." Unlike some series that continue long past their prime, Amanda is leaving at the top of her game. She will be missed, but I am sure that Ms. Roberts' fans will be happy with whatever she comes up with next. Her current work in progress is a historical novel set in Mexico during the waning years of the Spanish Inquisition. I, for one, am looking forward to the next chapter in this talented author's career. Adios, Amanda and friends, and happy trails to you,'til we meet again.

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