Regular readers will find what they have always liked here, and newcomers can revel in Hess's lively sense of humor, while perhaps overlooking the fact that the solution to the mystery won't hold water any better than the month-old baby. Claire's usual cast of quirky characters are on hand to trade quips and bat theories around, usually while eating pizza. And though the plot's not the main point here, the witty dialogue carries the day.

For a bookstore owner in a small college town in Arkansas, Claire Malloy really does have a talent for getting herself in trouble. This is the seventh time she's run around Faberville asking people questions when the police (chiefly her boyfriend, Lt. Peter Rosen) would prefer she not.

This time out, Claire is dealing with an elderly friend who has literally gone out on a limb—she takes over a tree slated to be destroyed by a real estate developer who, waddaya know, ends up being shot. But Claire also has to contend with the month-old baby someone has left on her doorstep, as well as her teenage daughter's intense mood swings.

(Nov., 272 pp., $23.95)

Reviewed by: 
Jeffrey Cohen