Book Review: Easter Bonnet Murder by Leslie Meier
Spring has sprung in Tinker’s Cove, Maine, and reporter Lucy Stone is hard at work covering both the serious business of government affairs as well as the fluffier human interest stories that her editor Ted Stillings knows propel sales and reader interest. She’s already planning to do a front-page article on the annual Easter bonnet contest over at Heritage House, a local assisted living community, even before her good friend, Miss Julia Tilley, is forced to check in there to properly recuperate from illness.
On a visit to Miss Tilley, Lucy meets several of the colorful characters who live at Heritage House, including Agnes Neal, an avid birder. When Agnes goes missing shortly thereafter, Lucy dutifully posts an alert in the online version of her paper, to the chagrin of the home’s publicity department. Ted warns her against antagonizing a wealthy advertiser, but Lucy is interested primarily in doing the right thing. But as the days pass with no sign of the missing woman, plenty of people, police included, suggest that Agnes just went off without telling her daughter, Geri Mazzone, who first reported her disappearance.
Geri, of course, has a very different opinion. Agnes had apparently been an investigative journalist before she retired, and had mentioned to her daughter that something suspicious was going on at Heritage House. Geri is convinced that this suspicious activity is what lies behind her mother’s disappearance, but no one else seems to care. An enraged and distraught Geri believes that this lack of concern is due to Agnes’s perceived value as an older woman:
Geri’s claim struck Lucy where it hurt most: in her conscience. She had to admit that deep down, awful as it was, she didn’t actually care, at least not much. She had problems of her own, Agnes wasn’t her problem, and she really couldn’t summon up much more than casual interest in the woman’s fate. The realization stunned her, even shocked her. She was treating Agnes like yesterday’s news, like last week’s edition of the paper which she’d already tossed in the recycling bin. But Agnes wasn’t an old story, she was a real person and she mattered.
And so Lucy decides to use her impending coverage of Heritage House to help her dig around into what happened. To this end, she recruits the aid of Miss Tilley, who’s more than happy to apply her own keen mind and senses to help her younger friend. But the more Lucy and Miss Tilley investigate, the more they discover that something is indeed rotting behind the home’s serene facade. Will they be able to escape Heritage House unscathed, or will the same fate that befell Agnes fall on them as well?
This was a really terrific look at what it means to age in America and the murky area in which many retirement and assisted living communities are allowed to operate. Lucy certainly doesn’t expect to be investigating what could be the biggest story of her career while covering what were meant to be rote pieces revolving around a retirement home. Even more profoundly, she learns why so many of the inhabitants of the community don’t seem to care about Agnes’s disappearance, after asking for insight from a helpful nurse:
Vera gazed down the hallway for a long minute, then replied, “Ah, in a place like this you get used to losing folks. Here today and gone tomorrow. It may seem cold, it bothered me, too, at first, but then I understood it’s really self-defense. They have their activities to keep their minds busy, they have wall-to-wall carpeting and gourmet meals, but they’re not fooled. They all know the grim reaper is just around the corner, waiting for them.”
This perhaps depressing focus on the inevitable end of life is counterbalanced by Leslie Meier’s wry observations on how some things never change, no matter how old you get. The mean-girls parallels between some of the Heritage House inhabitants and several of Lucy’s daughter’s social circle are just as cleverly drawn out as the reflections on how parents and children’s roles can sometimes flip with age. As always with this series, the balance between Lucy’s professional and personal lives is deftly done, showcasing the many challenges facing her as she raises a family and cultivates her career. Lucy is easy to root for, even if I do sometimes agree with her rather bratty daughter Zoe that she can be a little more old-fashioned than warranted. This only adds to her realism as a modern career woman with adult children though, and I can’t wait to read more of her engaging and relatable adventures.