cover image Tickled to Death

Tickled to Death

Joan Hess. Dutton Books, $18.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93810-1

Hess's trademark humor shines in her ninth mystery (after Poisoned Pins ) to feature Claire Malloy, bookstore owner in Farberville, Ark. Claire's friend Luanne is having an affair with dentist Dick Cissel, a possible suspect in the recent death of his second wife. Luanne, who hopes Claire will investigate and turn up a more likely suspect, overcomes her friend's reluctance by finding a needed summer job for Claire's daughter Caron--at a bird sanctuary run by the Dunling Foundation. Claire's doubts about Dick's innocence increase when she learns that his first wife drowned during a midnight swim--in the same lake where the second wife was blown to smithereens while driving the damaged Dunling Foundation boat. Captain Gannett, the local sheriff, shares Claire's doubts but resents her meddling in his investigation. Claire continues her probe, spurred on by the murder of the handyman in charge of the Foundation's boat, and is thrown in jail by Gannett for withholding evidence. Rescued, to her chagrin, by her policeman lover Peter, she resolves to get to the bottom of the mysterious deaths by herself and ferrets out an unexpected scam and a follow-up conspiracy. Hess's low-key humor and bull's-eye dialogue are reason enough to read anything she writes; solid plotting and deft characterization make this latest doubly rewarding. Mystery Guild selection. (May)