While the autumnal suburban street scene on the dust jacket of Sumners's winning debut suggests peace, serenity and tea at the rectory, the opening chapter with its gruesome murder scene proves otherwise. When housewife Grace Kimbrough goes missing in the affluent university town of Harton, N.J., Tom Holder, overweight 40-something police chief, seizes the opportunity to recruit the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Koerney, a professor at Harton's renowned seminary and associate of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church-anything to have contact with the pretty, witty priest and a respite from his worse-than-bad marriage, if only in his fantasies. For her own reasons, Kathryn agrees to help, and the two sleuths begin an investigation that will uncover the closely guarded secrets of several townspeople as well as secrets of their own hearts. Spunky 10-year-old Tita Robinson, who has recently become fascinated with Nancy Drew, guides Kathryn and Tom to a dramatic conclusion, though veteran crime readers may find the solutions to the various mysteries obvious. Graduates of New Jersey's only Ivy League university and others familiar with the Princeton area will relish the picture of Harton, while fans of ecclesiastical cozies will delight in Kathryn, whose lecture on lust and contact with others is intelligent, bold and refreshing. (Nov. 5) FYI: Like her heroine, the author is a teacher and an Episcopal priest. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In peaceful little Harton, New Jersey, an unnamed man and woman walk gingerly around the dead body of another woman, dressed in white, drenched in blood, and lying on the kitchen floor. Thus ends, or begins, the case of missing Grace Kimbrough, whose effete husband George reports her disappearance with odd detachment. Adding to the mystery is the absence, and possible disappearance, of the Kimbroughs’ next-door neighbors and best friends, Bill and Carolyn Stanley. Police Chief Tom Holder investigates, though his mind is distracted. The unhappily married Tom has an unlikely, X-rated crush on his Episcopalian priest, Rev. Kathryn Koerney, who even more improbably feels the same about him. Tom brings her into the case to question witness Elizabeth (Tita) Robinson, an observant ten-year-old who may have seen Grace’s body being taken out wrapped in a rug. Kathryn makes similar headway with the Stanleys’ prickly secretary Patricia Clyde, who’d offered Tom only evasiveness and obstruction. As Sumners is picking up Carolyn on the run in California, where she indulges in a one-night stand, and providing many other quick scenes from indeterminate male and female perspectives, Kathryn, who knows both the Kimbroughs and the Stanleys, gets intrigued by the mystery—apart from her nascent interest in Tom. She even flies to the West Coast, unbeknownst to Tom, on an investigative hunch. The disappearance of Tita raises the stakes and speeds the story to an end.
Newcomer Sumners doesn’t develop either her characters or plot enough to generate the interest it might. As the proposed series moves along, the unusual relationship between the cop and the priest might intrigue—or offend.