Retired FBI senior investigator Charlotte Diamond is cajoled into taking a Christmas market Rhine river cruise with her partner, glamorous retired queen of the movie screen Brenda Brandon/Boynton. When Brenda invites Charlotte’s doctor brother, Chance Diamond, and his minister wife, Marilyn, to join in the trip, Charlotte knows this will be no restful vacation. The “curse of Chance,” the travels of whom have always been accompanied by a death or three, does indeed embroil Charlotte and her three travel companions in a complex mix of “inconvenient” robberies and suspicious deaths against a backdrop of quaint German towns, Christmas markets, and Rhine castles.
The misadventure of the Rhine river cruise involves an international crime money-laundering Swiss banker and his Italian TV star wife; a “Jack Sprat” pair of elderly spinsters; a doll-fetish Japanese couple; a diamond-dripping, once-kidnapped heiress; a gay novelist and boyfriend; a catatonic mustard dynasty heiress; and assorted other unsavory characters. As the Rhine Maiden scenically chugs north from Nürnberg to Amsterdam over Christmas week, Charlotte and Brenda track their bet on whether the “curse of Chance” will meet its quota of mayhem, while Charlotte sinks deeper and deeper into what becomes a working vacation.
The fourth book in the Charlotte Diamond mystery series.
Chance muttered the word “catatonia,” and then all three women swiveled their faces toward where he was looking.
Charlotte’s first thought when she looked across the dining room was “nativity scene,” which she later thought was a little bizarre other than the focus on the fast-approaching Christmas and all this talk about Christmas markets. People had arisen from nearby tables and were gathered around the table where Doris and Malcolm Melard had been sitting. Doris was sitting in her chair, her sprained ankle raised onto the seat of another chair, looking rigidly across the room. Malcolm was standing over her, leaning down toward his wife’s stiff form and whispering something. The dining room host, Pierre—who apparently did occasionally put in a morning appearance—was crouching over her from the other side, fanning her face—with no effect—with a stack of menus.
As Chance, followed by Marilyn, launched himself toward the Melard’s table, Charlotte took a sharp look at where Doris was staring. The angle led her to the table where the Eberhardt’s were dining and where the Swiss banker, Hans, his hand suspended in the air and holding a slice of buttered toast, was staring back at Doris, a little frown on his face. His wife, Sophia, sitting so that her side was toward the nonaction at the Melard table, was animatedly jabbering about something without noticing that her husband’s attention was drawn elsewhere.
Charlotte’s eyes scanned the room, her highly developed powers of observation, kicking in. Nearly everyone she’d focused on in the early days of the cruise was there. The elderly ladies were at a table near the Eberhardts, and Irene Summersdale, the tall, thin one, had risen and was moving toward the Melard’s table. Hattie Timmons, dressed like she was going on safari, remained at the table, sour expression on her face, and holding a forkful of omelet she evidently didn’t approve of for the waitress, Gretchen, to examine.
The Japanese couple, and their Cabbage Patch doll, were at a table between Charlotte’s and the Melards’, their complete attention focused on the doll—so much so that Chance had to ask the Japanese man to move the doll’s chair in so that he had passage to Doris Melard. The two thug-like men who stuck out like sore thumbs in a vacation ensemble were there, in the corner, watching what was proceeding. The third, older man who Charlotte thought didn’t belong here wasn’t there. Neither were Candace Harrington and her young man—but their failure to arrive early for breakfast was explainable by the thumping in the night mystery that had already been solved.
Even Captain Jorgenson was there now, approaching through the entrance to the restaurant, the waiter Rico at his side, who undoubtedly had gone to fetch the captain as soon as the commotion had started. The captain stopped in the doorway, surveying the scene, but Rico moved in toward the Melards’ table and Chance had to brush him aside too to get to Doris’s side. Once there, Chance squatted down and began to examine Doris. She remained in her stiff trance, however. Marilyn also squatted down and took Doris’s hand in hers, and, at that, Charlotte discerned a bit of flutter in Doris’s eyelids.
“Please, everyone, stand back,” Chance said in a calm voice. “Go back to your tables, please. She’s having a bit of a seizure. We just need to take her to her cabin, and I think there’s something I can give her to relieve this. Please, Pierre, please stop with the fanning. Someone, please, help move Pierre away. Please.”