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DEAD MAN DOCKING
A Bed and Breakfast Mystery
By Mary Daheim
Avon, August 2006 ($6.99)
William Morrow, 2005 ($23.95)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
Intrepid proprietor of Hillside Manor B&B and part-time amateur sleuth Judith Flynn is tired -- tired of taking care of difficult guests, tired of putting up with her crotchety, constantly complaining mother Gertrude, tired of the pain in her newly-replaced hip. She convinces her husband, who is working long hours in his private detective business, that they should take a vacation as soon as possible. Joe agrees, but before they can make any plans Renie, Judith's cousin, best friend, and partner in crime solving invites her on a dream cruise to the South Pacific. It seems the owner of the ship, Magglio Cruz, one of the major clients of Renie's graphic design business, had decided to relocate his corporate headquarters from her hometown in Oregon to San Francisco, and she was none too pleased. She made such a ruckus about it, threatening to sue, among other things, that Cruz made her a consultant and gave her the free cruise, complete with VIP treatment.
The two cousins fly to San Francisco, check into a luxury hotel, and don their elegant evening apparel to attend a pre-launch party aboard the San Rafael. The theme of the cruise is the 1930s: the ship is decorated in the finest Art Deco style, and the guests are dressed accordingly. As events progress, it seems as though the two have entered a time warp, with characters and plot straight out of Agatha Christie and other writers of the Golden Era of Mystery. There is the obligatory Snooty Rich Matron and her dowdy, shrinking violet daughter (or in this case Shrinking Anemone), the Glamorous and Hard-Drinking Couple, complete with a shaggy dog named Asthma, the Ditzy Gold-Digging Blonde, a mysterious guy named Blackie, and so on.
The Dream Cruise is abruptly drydocked as a trio of murders muddy the waters. Renie and Judith feel compelled to help the police with their inquiries, but this time they share the honors with Rick and Rhoda St. George, who, in between binges, have been known to solve a few crimes themselves. For some unknown reason the rumpled, gruff police detective, Biff McDougal, shares the details of the crimes with the St. Georges, apparently having total confidence in their crime-solving abilities.
I understand that the book is tongue-in-cheek, more so than usual for Ms. Daheim's B&B mysteries. There's fun to be had, but I thought the ending -- with all the suspects gathered in the drawing room, of course -- was a tad over the top and a bit contrived. It isn't my favorite Judith and Renie adventure, but fans of the series will get a kick out of it.
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