Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth

Tamar Myers, Author, Tamar Meyers, Author Doubleday Books $17 (245p) ISBN 978-0-385-47139-8

This debut mystery introduces Magdalena Yoder, a mean-spirited Mennonite innkeeper who offers service with a sneer to the ``well-heeled, highfalutin customers'' patronizing her PennDutch Inn in southern Pennsylvania. When not badmouthing her sinful, slothful, divorced sister and her ``bizarre excuse for a dog,'' Magdalena attends to an unfortunate combination of guests: a congressman, his wife and aide, who are in the area for the first weekend of deer-hunting season; a quartet of anti-hunting activists; and Heather Brown, who calls herself a ``photo-hunter.'' Ironically, one of the hunting foes bags the first big game when, in the middle of the night, he finds Heather sprawled dead on the inn stairs. Police chief Jeff Myers initiates an investigation of the suspicious death, but leaves soon for a vacation with his wife Tammy, who is, Magdalena's observes, ``dingier than a mailbox on a gravel road.'' With the case in the hands of a dim deputy, Magdalena undertakes some sleuthing and learns that her patrons are secretly linked in their pasts. Another guest bites the dust as this carping narrator fails to display the high IQ she brags of: matters become clear to her only when the villain is overcome by a desire to confess. Occasional recipes, rich in butter and sugar, don't make up for the story's sour tone. (Jan.)