THE BODY IN THE CASKET
By Katherine Hall Page
Publisher: William Morrow (December, 2017)
A Faith Fairchild Mystery (Book 24)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
It’s been twenty years since Faith Fairchild gave up the glitz and glamour of New York City for the quaint village of Aleford, Massachusetts. She’s had a good life, raising two children with her minister husband Tom while growing her catering business, Have Faith. She’s catered just about every event there is, but working a weekend country house party is something new. When Max Dane, a well-known Broadway producer, asks her to cater his seventieth birthday party, she hesitates, but when he offers her an astronomical fee and unlimited budgets, she’s on board. The kids aren’t little any more, and their dad can manage just fine.
Dane lives in an exclusive gated community, Havencrest. Dane’s home, Rowan House, is a grand example of Arts and Crafts with a touch of Neo-Gothic, approached by a long, winding, lushly landscaped drive. Approaching the elegant front entrance Faith expects to be greeted by a butler in formal attire. Ian Morrison, casually dressed in a cashmere sweater and kakis, doesn’t fit that bill in attire or behavior, but he is obviously in charge of the household. Max Dane, on the other hand, lives up to his reputation as a successful producer and man about town.
After a tour of the impressively grand home, Dane gets down to business. The theme of the party, he tells her, is Heaven and Hell, the name of one of the plays he’d produced twenty years ago. The ten guests were involved in some way with that doomed enterprise. Dane has a reason for inviting those particular people. When he’s finished with the details of her duties, he tells her the real reason for hiring her. He knows she’s probably the best caterer in the area, but what interests him is her reputation as an amateur sleuth. One of his guests, it seems, wants to kill him. He shows her why he thinks that: someone left a casket on his front porch, containing only a copy of the playbill for Heaven and Hell. His guests are the actors and staff of that production, and he wants Faith to keep an eye out for clues to which one wishes him ill.
As part of the preparation for the house party, Faith researches the guests. Each and every one has a reason for hating Max; the play was a flop, even though it was praised by critics. Being a part of it impacted all their careers negatively. Some never worked in their chosen fields again. Was one of them angry enough to kill him? And why now, after all these years? She ponders this while carrying on her daily routine. There are other catering jobs to be done, and plenty of tasks at home. No Hamburger Helper in the Fairchild household, the family’s meals are prepared to her high standards – most of the time. She has to keep up with her kids’ busy schedules, be a helpmate to her pastor husband, comfort her son when his heart is broken for the first time, and commiserate with best friend Jinx, who thinks her elderly mother is being courted by a gold-digger.
At last the big day arrives, and Faith begins her allotted tasks of feeding and spying on the party attendees. As a native of New York City, Faith is not in awe of the bejeweled ladies in elegant couture gowns and the gentlemen in tuxedoes. She effortlessly handles their culinary needs while keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior. At least two of the guests can be crossed off the list: they meet untimely deaths before they could get there. Two unexpected and not especially welcome people fill out the table, leaving Faith to guess whether they might also be suspects.
As an ice storm approaches, threatening to cut them off from the outside world, tension erupts among the assemblage. Tempers flare, alcohol is consumed in massive amounts, feelings are hurt, secrets are revealed, and danger stalks the gilded halls.
THE BODY IN THE CASKET is a delightful modern-day country house mystery with a touch of the board game Clue. Agatha Christie would approve of the latest in Ms. Page’s long-running Faith Fairchild mystery series. Recommended for all lovers of the traditional mystery.
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