Spade, SMoF (Secret Master of Fandom), forensic accountant, and amateur detective for sf conventions when necessary, is program director of SierraCon, an sf convention held at a relatively isolated hotel in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just barely on the California side of the California/Nevada state line. Oh, and this convention is in November. He’s filling in for the original program director, who is recovering from chemotherapy for cancer. Spade’s not fond of either mountains or snow, but once the convention starts, no one really has to go out, and the locals say the snowstorms are overblown and don’t generally create real problems. Getting ready for the official start of the convention, Spade ignores the weather.
That’s a mistake. As the start of the convention nears, a major blizzard closes in, flights are canceled, attendees and guests cancel, and Spade has to remind the hotel’s general manager of the unusual terms of their contract regarding cancelations. At least their Writer Guest of Honor arrived early, and the “Usual Set,” a group of New York-based writers and editors who travel a lot, show up unexpectedly, just before that becomes impossible, and can be used to fill program holes created by the cancelations. Except, of course, Spade’s troubles haven’t even started. That happens during dinner that night, when one well-known fan nearly chokes to death. The fan is saved by fandom’s other traveling detective, Paladin, who performs the Heimlich maneuver, but the fan subsequently proves to have been poisoned.
The tiny, plastic number 1 in his food, which caused him to choke, may actually have saved his life, but he’s still really sick from the poison. Spade, Paladin, and their young ward Casper do not yet suspect that the tiny, plastic number 1 is the first real sign of what they’re up against. A clue to that can be found in an Agatha Christie book whose third and so far final title – after the first two offended even the less sensitive racial sensitivities of an earlier age – is And Then There Were None.
It’s soon very clear that the would-be killer isn’t stupid, and is intimately familiar with fandom. This isn’t an outsider.
Even with the cancelations, they’ve got a few hundred people on site. Before any of them actually gets killed, a large cast of sleuths – Spade, Paladin, and Casper, and because they can’t leave her unattended while they investigate, the Guest of Honor Horatio Dunnett (who may strike some as remarkably similar to George RR Martin), plus a few other convention members and the occasional hotel staffer – is rushing to find a wannabe killer. And because the storm has snowed in the hotel and anything remotely nearby, the police can’t get to them. They’re lucky they have doctors and nurses attending the convention, or they’d have no knowledgeable care for the injured as the murder attempts mount.
Finding the perpetrator is going to take Spade, with his deep knowledge of fandom and ability to dig out long-buried information as long as it’s buried in digital form, and Paladin with her quick thinking and fast reflexes.
It’s a clever mystery, a lot of fun, and satisfies at least a bit of that urge to attend a convention that’s been frustrated since early 2020.
(WMG Publishing, 2021)