In the fifth Charlotte Diamond mystery, the retired FBI investigator and her significant other, glamorous senior movie star Brenda Brandon (aka Boynton), return from a murder- and gem-theft-punctuated Christmas cruise down the Rhine River to confusion and catastrophe in their usually quiet retirement village of Hopewell on the Choptank in Maryland. The wooded lot next door to Brenda’s historical mansion, a lot that Brenda thought she owned, is being bulldozed by a New York construction firm for a mystery development. All of the homes and land from Charlotte’s own riverside cottage to the end of their road are being leveled as well, including Charlotte’s neighbors’ house, and she has no idea where their dog sitter may have gone with their beloved dogs, Rocket and Sam.
The two women and their previously sleepy riverside village are propelled into a hotbed of confusion, with disappearances and murder aplenty. Only Charlotte’s experience and skills from her previous life in the FBI and the appearance of an old flame Charlotte has been trying to avoid because of mixed feelings enable them to start unraveling the mystery of what is happening with spymaster Win Engleton’s property.
Charlotte walked up River Street toward the point, which ended in a large piece of property walled off at the end of River Street. It belonged to a former CIA counterintelligence chief who Charlotte had known and who had disappeared to great fanfare and a full-scale. . . .
The first thing she saw when she looked up from her introspection was the line of large bulldozers the construction worker had said were there. They were lined up near the end of River Street toward the point and on the side of the road that Charlotte’s own cottage was located—on the river side. The second thing she noticed, what set her heart racing and started her running in a waddling gait up the street on her chubby legs, was that the house beyond hers was a flattened pile of timbers and roofing. It had been bulldozed to the ground.
That was the Wellses’ house—the house of a couple that had been on an archeology dig for most of the time Charlotte had lived in Hopewell. It was the house that the schoolteacher, Sherry Landon, who was taking care of Charlotte and Brenda’s Siberian husky, Sam, and Rocket, their boxer, was renting.
Her eyes hadn’t deceived her. The house had been demolished, as had two of the houses across the street. There was no sign of Sherry or the dogs.
Confused and in shock, Charlotte went back to her own house, next door to the demolished house. She entered, struggling with the lock on the front door until she discovered with dismay that it wasn’t locked; stumbled into the living room; and sat heavily down on the sofa. She had to think. It was all such a great shock.
As she calmed down, she began to look around and her concern deepened. This wasn’t the way she’d left the room. Some small items had been moved around. Even the recliner and TV had been moved. She rose from the sofa and walked from room to room in the cottage. It wasn’t just that items had been moved. There were signs of habitation—continued habitation. There was food in the refrigerator, dishes in the sink, dirty laundry in the basket on top of the washer, and both men’s and women’s clothing that wasn’t hers hanging in the master bedroom closet. The bed wasn’t even made up as she had left it. She had no idea what this was all about, but she’d find out. But not until she’d gotten Brenda’s problems sorted out. Brenda came first. And at least her house was still standing. Regardless, she was sick with worry about where Sherry and the dogs were—and if they were safe.