WICKED SCHEMES, the ninth entry in Deb Pines’ Chautauqua Murder Mystery series, finds the tranquil community abuzz over a local online message board post titled “A Murder is Announced,” inviting the town to what appears to be a murder mystery game. When the curious residents show up at Merrill Manor, the lights turn off, and a voice yells, “Stick ’em up!” Gunshots ring out, and the lights come back on to reveal a dead body. Unlike in a game, however, the body is, in fact, dead. The assembled guests are left in shocked bewilderment. Was it an attempted robbery gone wrong? Or a tragic accident? Fortunately, among the attendees is Mimi Goldman, a newspaper reporter and amateur sleuth known as “Chautauqua’s Miss Marple.” Aided by her “sleuthing partner,” 90-year-old Sylvia Pritchard, Mimi jumps into action, uncovering a maze of secrets and scandals as the mystery deepens and more bodies turn up.
Patterned after the works of Agatha Christie and the Murder, She Wrote TV series, Pines’ mysteries are a faithful homage to those classics, idyllic Chautauqua standing in for Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove and the intrepid detective Mimi a close cousin of both Fletcher and Miss Marple. As Pines remarks in her author’s notes, WICKED SCHEMES, in a first for the series, is a re-imagining of a Christie novel, A Murder is Announced. In classic Christie fashion, Pines assembles a sprawling roster of suspects, including the owner of Merrill Manor, Betsy Kowalski, her childhood friend Kitty, her actor nephew, a retired judge, and many others. Mimi and Sylvia methodically work their way down the list, questioning anyone who might have been responsible for killing the victim, a waiter who turns out to have posted the invitation and whose motivations are unclear.
Befitting its lighthearted, all-in-good-fun mood, WICKED SCHEMES trots through its traditional mystery paces with more emphasis on witty banter and the colorful backdrop of the quirky lakeside village than an airtight plot. Pines’ breezy writing style, while polished, occasionally drifts out of focus, and the mystery’s resolution leans heavily on last-act revelations that would logically have appeared much earlier. These flaws, however, don’t get in the way of the novel’s brisk energy or the suspense generated by its juicy twists and revelations.
Bubbling over with sharp, sarcastic humor and lively, vividly detailed writing, WICKED SCHEMES is another charming entry in the series that will delight both longtime fans and newcomers to the Chautauqua mysteries.
~Edward Sung for IndieReader