STEFANIE MATTESON – Murder at Teatime. Diamond, paperback original, March 1991.

   This second installment of the adventures of noted actress and movie star Charlotte Graham takes place in Maine, where a world-famous professor and expert on herbal remedies is poisoned by one of the products found growing in his own garden.


   The motive may have been his stout opposition to the proposed economic development of the island where he’s living (golf course, hotel and condos), or it may have been connected to his valuable collection of herbal incunabula (books printed before 1500), discovered soon after his death to be missing.

   Charlotte Graham is deliberately modeled on the old-fashioned Katharine Hepburn type of movie star, independent, only occasionally regretting that she has put her career over love and marriage. She is, however, in love with the world and nearly everything in it.

   Although at first Charlotte finds herself nervous in a place that “didn’t have sidewalks,” she is soon won over by the raw beauty of Maine and its inhabitants. And where else in the country would she be asked by the harried chief of police to aid him in his investigation, simply because of her past exploits in the field?

   It has to be a chore for a mystery writer, book after book, to get his/her amateur detective involved in what should really only be police investigations. In a way it’s refreshing to see Matteson make no bones about it, and get Charlotte Graham right to work!

   This is but one example of how this case maintains itself as a direct descendant of the mysteries of the Golden Age of Detection. As another, there are only a few major suspects on the relatively isolated island. Their alibis have to be checked out individually, their motives examined in both direct and casual conversation, and in the end they are all gathered together in a final confrontation, during which the murderer bolts and pursuit must follow.

   A love of books and the lore of book collecting are also important ingredients of this novel, along with the herbs and the pitfalls of life in academia. If I thought Mattes0n’s first book, Murder at the Spa slowed down too often to nearly a halt by the intrusion of as much about the spa business as I wanted to know, she certainly makes up for it with this one, which has almost everything I’m looking for in a detective novel.

   Almost, but not quite. I did have a little bit of trouble with the ending, and with a

[WARNING: Major Plot Alert!]

I’m going to tell you about it here. [Don’t read farther without having read the book first, if you’re going to.]

   The problem, as I see it, is that the evidence that eventually traps the killer is found carelessly left lying in a book as a bookmark. I don’t know about you, but if I’d ever murdered anybody, I’d be a little bit more careful about incriminating myself than this.

   (Of course, I’d be the kind of killer who keeps returning to the scene of the crime over and over again, looking and looking for anything at all that I’d missed!)

Rating:   B.

— This review was intended to appear in Mystery*File 35. It was first published in Deadly Pleasures, Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall 1993 (slightly revised).

       The Charlotte Graham series —

1. Murder at the Spa (1990)


2. Murder at Teatime (1991)
3. Murder on the Cliff (1991)
4. Murder on the Silk Road (1992)


5. Murder at the Falls (1993)
6. Murder on High (1994)


7. Murder Among the Angels (1996)
8. Murder Under the Palms (1997)