cover image With Friends Like These

With Friends Like These

Gillian Roberts, Alan Dean Foster. Ballantine Books, $18 (249pp) ISBN 978-0-345-37783-8

Several chapters of inconsequential scene-setting precede the poisoning death of insufferable TV producer Lyle Zacharias at the 50th birthday party he has thrown for himself in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up. The guest list doubles as a roster of suspects. Those who see Lyle drop dead in the middle of his celebratory speech include his overprotective Aunt Hattie; his third wife, the pneumatic Tiffany, who may have been cheating on him; his aloof second wife Sybil, who thinks the only useful thing he ever did was father their son Reed; various show-biz types who have good reason to hate him; edgy Lizzie Chapman, the hotel's cook and caterer; and Bea Pepper, whose gift tarts turn out to have been the vehicle for the rare poison that killed Lyle. Bea is also the mother of amateur sleuth Amanda Pepper, star of three previous mysteries, including the Anthony Award-winning Caught Dead in Philadelphia . This time out, Amanda chatters her way to an improbable solution with the help of her boyfriend, homicide detective C. K. Mackenzie, in an annoyingly jokey and overelaborate tale. ( Aug. )