Some clever hiding of clues in plain sight distinguishes Edgar nominee MacDonald's (The Unforgiven) otherwise unremarkable contemporary thriller. Britt Andersen finds herself playing Nancy Drew after Greta, her estranged older sister, perishes in a fire that also almost claims the life of her 11-year-old niece, Zoe. Remorseful at having lost her chance at reconciliation, Britt leaves Boston, where she produces a late-night news talk show, for the rural Vermont community where her sister lived and died. Her intended short stay for the funeral is extended both by unexpected feelings of connection to Zoe and by the alarming news that the fatal blaze was of "suspicious origin," a phrase that develops a personal resonance when she learns that Greta was trying to locate their mother, who'd deserted them when they were little. After her brother-in-law starts behaving oddly, Britt joins forces with a local reporter to build a case against him. Predictably, Britt too becomes the target of arson and attempted murder. While the author plays fair by giving reasonable hints that still allow for a pleasurable surprise twist, her paper-thin characters generate little interest. A successful professional who must have considerable emotional intelligence to do her job, Britt acts as if the most basic human feelings of love and attachment are an unknowable mystery. Her strictly amateur sleuthing succeeds only by accident. Readers for whom romance matters more than crime-solving, however, will like the hopeful, heart-warming ending. (Apr. 8)
FYI:MacDonald is a bestselling author in France.