Nothing so animates the contentious natives of Martha's Vineyard as the question of proper land use. To propose the slightest alteration of the landscape is to launch an endless series of loud public meetings and a barrage of vitriolic letters to the editor. Imagine the hubbub and intrigue, then, when a local dowager spurns her estranged son and strange granddaughter by selling her 200 unspoiled acres to that lowest of life forms, an off-island developer. Soon after this happens, the lawyer who negotiated the deal turns up dead inside this same disputed acreage.

Thus begins Cynthia Riggs' second mystery set on Martha's Vineyard. Determined to make sense of all the commercial and personal crosscurrents set in motion by the sale is 92-year-old Victoria Trumbull, the poet, newspaper columnist and tireless snoop Riggs introduced last year in Deadly Nightshade.

If the lawyer's death is murder, as Trumbull believes it to be, then there's no shortage of suspects. Besides the disinherited family members who may be carrying grudges, there are at least four distinct groups scrambling to wrest the newly acquired land from the developer a gaggle of Utopians looking to build their own upscale paradise on the spot, some civic types who seek to turn the place into a public park and campground, a cabal of rich doctors intent on creating an exclusive golf course and the beleaguered and underfunded conservationists who want to preserve the land the way it is.

This last group involves Trumbull in the action (as if she needed an excuse) by asking her to search the warred-over turf for any endangered species of plants that might bring development to a quick halt. Helping Trumbull carry out her mission as well as test her suspicions are the long-suffering local police chief (also a woman) and an inquisitive 11-year-old sidekick.

Riggs, who bases the character of Victoria on her own dauntless mother, knows the Island its flora, fauna, families, legends, customs and rumors so well that every pace she puts her senior sleuth through becomes another delightful discovery.

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