Ayelet Waldman, . . Berkley Prime Crime, $22.95 (314pp) ISBN 978-0-425-19014-2

The fourth mystery in Waldman's Mommy-Track series (after 2002's A Playdate with Death) gets off to a slow start, but repays reader perseverance in spades. Harried mother and PI Juliet Applebaum secures a new case from her old friend, film star Lilly Green. Lilly's stepbrother Jupiter Jones is incarcerated in the L.A. County jail, accused of raping and murdering his new, very young stepmother, Chloe Jones. Since the lawyer representing Jupiter thinks he's guilty, Lilly wants Juliet discreetly to assemble evidence for a mitigation defense. Juliet and her partner, Al Hockey, determine that given the character witnesses available to testify on Jupiter's behalf, their best bet is to find another suspect. Juliet and Al uncover all sorts of witnesses who refuse to talk—the director of a posh rehab clinic; the Very Reverend Polaris Jones, leader of a New-Age religious cult, widower of the victim and father of the accused; movers and shakers connected with the state assembly; and even Lilly. Soon the ground is littered with suspects who have reasons for wishing Chloe dead. Waldman skillfully unravels the intertwined relationships between all these characters to reveal a cunning murder plot. The sometimes overwrought Juliet and her patient husband make an appealing couple—funny, clever and loving (but never mawkish). Waldman has an excellent ear for the snappy comeback, especially when delivered by a five-year-old. (July 1)

Forecast:The witty jacket art—of the big bad wolf sitting in a corner with Little Red Riding Hood's cloak and spilled basket in the foreground—will particularly amuse parents of young children. Booksellers might want to feature this and other titles in the series near or even in the kids' section.