cover image What Mommy Said: An Arlene Flynn Mystery

What Mommy Said: An Arlene Flynn Mystery

H. Paul Jeffers. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-15687-9

The otherworldly and the all too worldly collide in this woefully inelegant novel. After coming close to drowning, nine-year-old Sebastian Duncan tells his grandmother that, while he was near death, his dead mother, supposedly a suicide, told him that she was actually murdered. At the grandmother's insistence, Jennifer Duncan's death by an overdose of sleeping pills is reinvestigated. The now-wealthy widower, James, a reputed adulterer, is the chief suspect. Meanwhile, Matilda Allen, a rich widow is found strangled with her own stocking. Her maroon BMW is missing, and her deadbeat son has just been paroled from prison. Arlene Flynn, special investigator for the district attorney in this upstate New York locale, probes both deaths, plodding through a tale marred by several weak plot devices. Arlene's lapsed-Catholic religious beliefs are given a lot of mileage near the start, then abruptly dropped. Her love of mystery fiction seems only a means for the author to show off his knowledge of Inspector Morse and Sherlock Holmes stories. Jennifer died after a party, and the partygoers are unconvincingly served up as suspects. The real killer is left far from the center of the narrative in a way that Arlene's beloved crime authors would never tolerate. The murder of wealthy Matilda is by far the meatier of the two deaths, but Jeffers (A Grand Night for Murder, etc.) never gets far enough away from the plight of young Sebastian to ratchet the tension up to a compelling level. (Nov.)