A murderous fall down icy stairs is nearly the death of Anna Hitchcock, the much-beloved "American Agatha Christie" and Christopher Holmes's former mentor. Anna's plea for him to host her annual winter writing retreat touches all Kit's sore spots - traveling, teaching writing classes, and separation from his new lover, J.X. Moriarity.
For J.X., Kit's cancellation of yet another romantic weekend is the death knell of a relationship that has been limping along for months. But that's just as well, right? Kit isn't ready for anything serious and besides, Kit owe Anna far too much to refuse.
Faster than you can say "Miss Marple wears boxer shorts", Kit is snooping around Anna's elegant, snowbound mansion in the Berkshires for clues as to who's trying to kill her. A tough task with six amateur sleuths underfoot. Six budding writers with a tangled web of dark undercurrents running among them.
Slowly, Kit gets the uneasy feeling that the secret may lie between the pages of someone's fictional past. Unfortunately, a clever killer is one step ahead. And it may be too late for J.X. to ride to the rescue.
This is the second book in Lanyon's Holmes & Moriarity series, and it's a pretty fun read. Plenty of red herrings, and also lots of danger, as well as exploring the on-again-off-again relationship of Kit and J.X.
There's the usual cast of characters that one would expect from a writers' retreat (or what I imagine would be the usual cast of characters): the ingenue, Nella House, a young 20-ish something who shows promise as a writer, someone that Anna has said she'll take under her wing; the cold fish, Poppy C. Clarke, who dresses in manly clothes and may have had her ex-husband killed; the tenant, Victoria Sherwell, a writer living in a cabin on Anna's estate; the chubby guy, Rowland Bride, who is rather heavyset, always looks "hot" as in perspiring hot, and who obviously has a crush on young Nella; the cool, biker-looking writer, Arthur Gohring, whom no one knows anything about; the PA, Sara Mason, who has been with Anna several years now - and who writes "for herself"; the longtime editor, Rudolph Dunst, who might have a less-than-professional relationship with his author, Anna; the obnoxious stepson, Ricky, who stands to inherit quite a tidy sum of money and his deceased father's catalog of work - but only once his stepmother is dead; and the ever-lurking handyman, Luke, who is young, an ex-con, and might be tending more than Anna's outside gardens.
It's a lot of characters to keep up with, but Lanyon does a nice job of developing them enough that the reader has no trouble remembering who is who. Plus, said characters start dying pretty quickly, which helps us not only keep track of the players, but emotionally invests us in Kit's investigation. Because he is also in danger, suffering injuries in a fatal car wreck early in the book. He needs to find out if someone really is trying to kill Anna, or if her accidents are just that - a series of very unfortunate events that have her imagining assassins around every corner.
J.X. shows up after the car wreck, and that's where things really take off. Kit's lover has his former profession, that of law enforcement, on his side when trying to explain that sometimes, an accident is just that - an accident. J.X. obviously cares greatly for Kit; it's Kit who is holding back, fearing their age difference (only 5 years, but when you turn 40, any difference feels pretty big), J.X.'s fame (he's also a writer now, and pens very popular, bestselling, "utterly readable" thrillers), and his, Kit's, own writers block. Kit's series starring Miss Butterwith has been around for twenty some years, and much as he loves her and her cat (and her very obviously gay male friend), he's running out of ideas for her. He seems a bit bored with her, but also afraid to try something new. And yes, every time I read Miss Butterwith, I think of the syrup, Mrs. Butterworth. Hard not to, and then I want some pancakes. Hm...
But I digress. The mystery was pretty well-written, and I didn't realize whodunnit until pretty much the very end. I read a few reviews on Amazon where people thought Kit complained/worried too much about the possibility of losing J.X. Well, who wouldn't? Kit's ex-husband, David, had left him for a younger man, and that's gotta hurt, no matter who you are. J.X. is written to be smokin' hot, while Kit thinks of himself (and as such, so do we, the reader), as pretty much an ordinary 40-ish, middle-aged man. Not too firm, but not too flabby, having trouble seeing small print, not bouncing back from things nearly as quickly as he used to. I can see where he'd be nervous about letting J.X. get too close...and I thought this installment moved along their relationship very nicely.
Overall, my only disappointment was that a few characters were introduced, became part of the mystery, then just sort of disappeared. I would love to know what happened to them, and what their exact relationships with Anna were. Oh well. Can't have everything!