cover image Death by the Light of the Moon

Death by the Light of the Moon

Joan Hess. St. Martin's Press, $18.95 (227pp) ISBN 978-0-312-06949-0

With deep affection and a sure, light touch, Hess, author also of the Maggody series, portrays characters ranging from a heavy metal aficionado to a wildly eccentric Southern lady of a certain age in this thoroughly modern gothic tale. Bookstore owner/sleuth Claire Malloy, encountered most recently in Roll Over and Play Dead , finds little but trouble when she and teenage daughter Caron attend the 80th birthday celebration of Miss Justicia, mother of Claire's late husband, at the family manor in the Louisiana bayous. Feuding relatives, mysterious hints about inheritances and terrible food begin a ghastly first night that will also include the drowning of the matriarch after she is seen careening drunkenly about the garden in her powered wheelchair. Various family members, among them Claire's brother-in-law, his grasping children and a socialite cousin with designs on the family mansion, look for a missing will while striving to keep up appearances, as Claire tries to conduct what she is certain is a murder investigation. While at times Hess draws her characters too broadly, her well-paced and well-plotted stories still delight. (Mar . )