Charlene Weir, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne $23.95 (272p) ISBN 0-312-26931-5

Courageous Hampstead, Kans., police chief Susan Wren, last seen in 1998's Murder Take Two, does her job and does it well, despite a plate heaped to the maximum, in the latest assured cozy from Malice Domestic Award–winner Weir. While battling a freezing winter, a flu epidemic and multiple murders, Wren must also weigh an offer to return to big-city crime-fighting. Hampstead's busiest week of mayhem begins at the ramshackle three-story house of recently divorced mother of three Caley James, when the repairman she phones to fix a broken furnace overstays his welcome and his life span, becoming the town's first holiday casualty. Later, after a police officer questions Caley's elderly neighbor, Pauline Frankens, and leaves empty-handed, the woman muses to her cat: "Do you think I did wrong by not telling him what I saw?" Needless to say, Pauline has ample cause to regret her omission. With plenty of twists, turns and subplots, Weir keeps the action hopping. Why does slacker dad Mat Caley suddenly develop an interest in spending time with his children? Eldest son Zach's past experience tells him there has to be some underhanded explanation. Intent upon discovering what his dad is involved in, Zach entangles himself in dangers far greater than he ever anticipated. A battered wife, a jealous husband, a holier-than-thou matriarch and a little girl with a vivid imagination are only a few of the figures that come into play in a whodunit notable for its cast of well-developed and highly believable characters. Agent, Meg Ruley. (Dec. 10)

Forecast: The small, snow-covered house on the dust jacket doesn't jibe at all with the house featured in the novel, but Weir fans at least will know to expect more than just a generic cozy.

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
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