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    SUGARPLUM DEAD by Carolyn Hart (see her website)


    William Morrow, 2000

    Annie Darling is trying to get into the Christmas spirit, decorating her mystery bookstore Death on Demand, and wrestling with her cats for ornaments, but family concerns interfere with her happiness. Her mother-in-law Laurel has always been a little wild, but talking to her dead husband? The fan really gets hit when Annie's long-missing father shows up, soon followed by a 'sister.' Annie's father and step-sister come attached to a family tearing itself apart at the seams. Ex-movie star and family tyrant Marguerite Dumaney has threatened to give all of the family fortune to support a medium's reseach into communicating with the dead. Murder comes quickly--and Annie's father and sister are suspects.

    Together with her husband Max, Annie throws herself into detecting. She can't believe either her newfound father or sister would have killed. Yet if they didn't, who did? The spiritual medium seems to be suspicious, but why would he kill when everything was already going his way?

    In SUGARPLUM DEAD, Carolyn Hart (see reviews of more novels by this author) delivers an enjoyable read. Annie and Max have a loving and supportive relationship without cloying. Annie's mixed reaction to her father adds depth to this engaging character. Annie's cats play their supporting roles without usurping the place of the human characters (am I the only reader who thinks people should do the detecting, not just wait until their animals bring them clues?). I especially enjoyed the references to both current and classic mystery novels as the plot veered into Annie's bookstore. Readers are likely to guess the actual killer fairly early in this novel, but they'll want to keep reading to watch Annie and Max at work.

    Three Stars

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