The release of DEAD, WHITE, AND BLUE is timely as the story centers on a Fourth of July incident on the island community of Broward’s Rock. Annie Darling owns the local bookstore Death on Demand and is getting ready for the onslaught of vacationers soon to be demanding summer mystery books. One of the highlights of her offerings is a free set of books for the winner of her art poster contest. She hurries to be on time for the gals that night at the Country Club, an extravaganza for the Fourth of July, complete with fireworks.
Early on, Carolyn Hart sets up the characters who will dominate the action. Most prominent are Wesley and Shell Hurst, along with Wesley’s two children from his first marriage to Vera. Hayley and Jed are witnesses to their father’s loveless union with Shell, a much younger, robust beauty. Wesley seeks solace with Vera, while Shell flirts with and embraces local contractor Dave Peterson. The rumor is that Shell and Dave will run off together. At the party, Shell arrives late, parks her Porsche in the overflow lot, and floats into the club for her grand entrance. She and Wesley soon argue, and he frequents the bar, drinking to excess. The fireworks are a grand culmination of the party, spectacular displays shooting into the night.
"Fans of the series close the final page confident that Hart has triumphed again. Max and Annie Darling may not be the most scientific sleuths, but they are lovable protagonists. DEAD, WHITE, AND BLUE will fit into this summer’s best cozy mystery reads."
A few days later, a worried Hayley comes into Max Darling’s office and pleads with the private investigator to locate her stepmother. Shell has not been seen since leaving the club on July 4th. Plowing into the suspicious circumstances of Shell’s disappearance are Annie; Max; Max’s mother, Laurel; Emma Clyde; and Annie’s dear friend, Henny Brawley. Hounded by the little group of sleuths, Police Chief Billy Cameron insists that he can do nothing until a report is filed. On behalf of Hayley, Max states that she is indeed a missing person.
The intrepid threesome --- Emma, Laurel and Henny --- along with Annie, treat the case as a possible homicide with a dead body. Their mantra is WTB? (Where’s The Body?). Max, on the other hand, takes a more direct approach, interviewing those who may have been the last to see Shell. He takes on her husband, his ex-wife, the so-called love interest Dave Peterson, and his wife, Maggie. He also talks with numerous country club employees who worked at the party. His attempts to locate a missing waiter, Richard Ely, comes up empty, but then a few days later, Ely’s body is recovered from waters near the end of the pier. His death is ruled a drowning, but Max is not so easily convinced of it; he smells a connection between the missing socialite and the waiter.
The Darlings’ persistence becomes too intense at times, and Cameron forces them to back off. However, when the missing Porsche, along with Shell’s dead body, is recovered from the golf course pond, the case takes on new urgency. Shell has been suffocated and then dumped in the water. When Jed’s fingerprints are lifted from the car, he is brought in and arrested. His silence prods the Darlings to believe he is innocent, perhaps covering for the actual murderer.
The Darlings devise an elaborate drama that they hope will draw out the real killer and expose his or her motive. Carolyn Hart writes these scenarios with expertise, fulfilling her fans’ need to locate and draw out the killer. Her real talent lies in thoroughly vetting her characters, their whims, flaws, relevance and talents. Fans of the series close the final page confident that Hart has triumphed again. Max and Annie Darling may not be the most scientific sleuths, but they are lovable protagonists. DEAD, WHITE, AND BLUE will fit into this summer’s best cozy mystery reads.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on July 3, 2013