Thursday, April 30, 2020

The April Fool's Day Murder

The April Fool's Day Murder (2001) by Lee Harris

Willard Platt isn't known as the jolliest, kindest man in Oakwood. He's started lawsuits and played hardball with neighbors and the city over land rights, for instance. And he is very nasty to Christine Bennett and her small son when Eddie accidentally runs into him at the local supermarket. But he does have at least one redeeming quality--his love of the theater and his support for the local school's drama program. His sense of the theatrical leads him to stage his own "murder" as an elaborate part of the drama club's April Fool's Day scavenger hunt. But someone else decides to have the last laugh and repeats the performance later that afternoon...only this time it really is murder. 

Chris finds herself involved in another recent murder (as in my previous read) when she is the one who notices the "dead body" the first time. She's gone to the garden supply shop across the road from the Platt home and sees what she believes to be a corpse. She doesn't touch him, but when Willard doesn't respond, she rushes home and calls the police. And then is thoroughly embarrassed when told it was all part of the elaborate April Fool's shenanigans on the part of the drama club. Later that afternoon, her friend Melanie calls to tell her that Willard Platt is dead. But Chris isn't having any--she doesn't like April Fool's jokes in general and is really tired of them this year. Mel is so insistent that it's really true that Chris calls her policeman husband. Yes, Willard Platt really is dead this time. 

At first, Chris doesn't want to get involved. The joke in the morning really shook her up, but the more she hears about the situation and the more she thinks about it the more interested she gets. This is especially true after she spies an older woman walking along the road at night and offers her ride--only to discover that she is Willard's widow and she's determined to go see her son even though she no longer drives. She hasn't been able to reach him and he hasn't been to see her since receiving the news of his father's death. Chris is appalled that the son hasn't rallied round his mother and even the fact that he was estranged from his father doesn't convince her that he would abandon his mother in such difficult circumstances. She soon learns that there's more troubles in this family than the current death--including the accidental death of the Platts' grandson when his grandmother lost control of the car (this explains why she no longer drives). Chris keeps coming back to that previous death. But why would someone kill Willard if his wife was the one responsible? 

But, of course, there's also the father and son relationship to consider. Roger has never gotten along with his demanding father and he finally decided to break with him completely when he realized he would never meet Willard's unreasonable standards. Did something recent happen to make killing his overbearing father seem necessary? And then there's the owner of the garden shop and nursery. Mr. Vitale had what he thought was a deal to get more land and expand his nursery, but Willard Platt put a stop to that. Was the land worth killing over? Chris will need to sift through these possible motives and more details from the past before coming up with the solution.

I remembered this one a little better than the others I've reread recently. I was quite sure I knew the motive and knowing the motive had two suspects in mind. Even with a pretty good idea of who did it and why, I still enjoyed this one very much. I particularly like the twist on the April Fool's joke. I know that I've read other books that feature a joke or plan that goes wrong (or gets used to do wrong), but it's an interesting plot device nonetheless.  ★★ 

Deaths = 2 (one auto accident; one stabbed)

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