Jerry Benedict, cartoonist and amateur detective, is nervously preparing for his wedding day. He's interrupted by a phone call that carries an interesting proposition. It turns out that Lucius McConaughy, his editor, is one of six heirs to a forgotten fortune. Good news, except that not everyone seems keen on a six-way split...
Benedict is reluctantly pried away from his impending nuptials and, with an apology to his fiancée, heads up to the wilds of Connecticut to poke around. Naturally, things aren't as simple as they seem. Lost diaries, a family curse, the local mob (in rural Connecticut, no less) and a host of unscrupulous heirs all serve to muddy the waters.
The mystery is, at best, so-so, with everyone a little too neatly connected and a few red herrings that I (irritatingly) bought at face value. However, Gift of Death excels at a few, rare, points. Some of the characters (primarily Jerry, Lucius and Stephanie, his semi-jilted bride-to-be) are terrific. Lucius especially is a scene-stealer. Despite his heir/potential-victim status, he's much more concerned with his diet, his cigars and catching the sun.
In true 1967 style, sex also plays a massive role. The author uses the delayed wedding to create a fale sense of urgency. Not only is Stephanie happily flirting with the local mini-mafioso, but Jerry really, really, really wants to get laid. Waiting, however, is a good thing. Like a Reagan-era horror movie, improper (pre-or-extra-marital) sex is invariably rewarded with a messy death.
The fluffy mystery and sex banter made for a thin story but a fast book. Without praising it unduly, I'm interested enough to pursue the other Jerry Benedict mysteries. Maybe the poor guy can finally get Stephanie into bed.