This debut novel takes places in and around Elkhorn Slough, a beautiful eco-spot worth visiting in Monterey Bay. The title might better be called called Mother-Daughter-Granddaughter Murder Night since it features that combination of women. Lana is a pushy, hard-driven real estate lady obsessed with expensive power trappings; her daughter Beth is a nurse living at Elkhorn in a rustic (or shabby in Lana’s view) cabin with Jacqueline (Jack), a teenager who works part-time at the local kayak rental business. Lana must leave her L.A. business to get cancer treatments at Stanford, so is forced into living with Beth, although their relationship is strained. On one of Jack’s tours, a client comes across a dead body, a murder victim. Jack becomes a suspect. Of course, Lana must protect her granddaughter by catching the real killer.
This is one of the better crime novels I’ve read in recent months. The author does a good job of populating it with potential suspects and feeding clues in small doses all the way to the end. I’m not a big fan of cozy mysteries, which this one is, but the investigative work in this one is more believable than most. In novels written by women, I’m also normally put off by constant descriptions of women’s outfits and named designers. Those sorts of descriptions are a regular feature of this book wherever Lana appears. But this one makes Lana’s concern with fashion and extravagance seem vain and ridiculous, which I think it is, so I mostly approve. Beth and Jack are down-to-earth with more solid values and thus more likeable, but Lana still takes the lead in the homegrown detecting. While I find it unrealistic that so much of the legwork is done by amateurs instead of the police, at least the work done by the sheriff’s detectives is described in a plausible manner. The explanation at the end makes them come off as having done a reasonable job. The ending, with most of the suspects all together, is a bit too formulaic and contrived, but at least things are wrapped up neatly. I did suss out the killer before it was revealed, but not much before. I had my eye on another one for a long time. The critical clues were not revealed earlier. In short, the suspense was maintained almost to the end. The added local ambience of the slough was an added bonus.