STEAMED OPEN features Julia Snowden, of course, the increasingly essential leader in her family's summer island-based business off the coast of Maine. Julia's far away now from the city job that obsessed her in earlier titles in the series -- she's nurtured the tourist-based family operation to thriving, made peace with her sister, settled down with her hunky boyfriend Chris, and expects restoration to start soon on the burned shell of the Snowdens' long-closed-off grand house on the island.
But it's a careful balance, and even the closing of a local clamming beach can tilt things toward perilous. Of course, the real problem is the reason for the closing: murder of the owner. Looks like Julia is the last to have seen Bartholomew Frick alive -- unless of course it was one of her clamming friends, or the tourists desperate to get to the lighthouse beyond that beach, or ... well, nobody liked the guy.
Binder leaned forward, placing both elbows and forearms on his desk. "Mr. Frick is deceased."The local police are almost friendly toward Julia by this point, which helps when she decides that circumstances require her to clear one suspect, chase down others, and find out the real reason that the Herrickson mansion's got such an odd series of owners lined up. (There's a will, of course, but it makes the confused currents darker.)
I'd expected it was something serious. The Major Crimes Until didn't come to town for trivial reasons. They didn't summon you to the police station at ten o'clock at night for a friendly chat. I had even suspected what that serious things was, especially when the Lieutenant had asked me about Frick. But Binder's statement hit me hard I hadn't known Frick well, and what I had known, I hadn't liked. But I had been with him that morning, talking about his great-aunt's home and her artwork. He hadn't been a nice man, but he had been a living, breathing one.
Ross keeps the pace quick, with red herrings and possible victims and perpetrators slowly revealing themselves, and a second strand of mystery and tension around Julia's boyfriend Chris, once again holding his personal tensions way too close to his chest, and sleeping elsewhere when he chooses to avoid trusting her with what's going on. That's part of the charm of every Barbara Ross mystery: the braiding together of crisis outside, crisis inside, and the demand for the different kinds of courage (and loyalty) involved.
Pick up STEAMED OPEN for some relaxing and non-wintry "amateur sleuthing" on the side as you power into and through the holidays, and get an extra couple of copies to tuck into the stockings of good friends. They'll appreciate this well-plotted investigation with its cords of friendship and deeper affection, in its salt-tangy Maine setting (and oh, those clam recipes, yumm!). I've got a list going already of people who deserve a good read for this season.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.