It’s right before Christmas, and Jennifer Frost is fretting over how to make up for a lost booking at her Watarah Bed-and-Breakfast Inn in Pelican Bay, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. Her guests include an obnoxious couple from Melbourne, a younger man in his 30s who might (or might not) be a doctor, her own aunt seeking refuge from major repair work at her own home, and a young woman named Heidi who is more a boarder than a guest and content to occupy a nondescript room that needs serious updating.
And if it’s not her guests trying her patience, it’s that sourpuss of a neighbor across the street, Peggy Sherman, who turns out to be the sister of the Melbourne woman. Peggy is always ready with a retort, an insult, a sharp word, and an angry stare. When her sister pays a surprise visit, Peggy unceremoniously kicks her out of her house. She’s not fond of family.
Jennifer relieves her tension and frustration by baking, and somehow remains as polite as possible, long after most of us would have slugged someone. And then Heidi’s estranged husband is found dead in Jennifer’s garden. No one seems to have an alibi, and everyone has a secret.
As Good as Dead is the second mystery in the Pelican Bay series by Karen Chester. It’s a cozy mystery, so the violence and gore are kept to a minimum. Its focus is how Jennifer is reluctantly drawn into investigating the death on her own, risking the ire of the police and possibly putting herself in danger. She discovers lurking thugs, angry mistresses, aggravated policeman, and connections to illegal drugs.
In addition to the three Pelican Bay mysteries (Last Gasp, As Good as Dead, and Dead Wood), Chester has also written six novels in the Emma Cassidy mystery series: Throw a Monkey Wrench, Pushed to the Limit, Murder Most Likely,Witch Way to Murder, In the Dead of Winter, and A Case of Cold Feet.
As Good as Dead is a fun mystery, full of twists and turns (not to mention baked goods). Jennifer, a former reporter in Sydney, makes a good detective because she observes things that most others miss. And it’s one of those observations that will lead to the killer’s identity.
Top photograph: a bed-and-breakfast inn in Australia.