At Wit's End,' a murder mystery awaits

Karen Joy Fowler follows up her bestselling 'The Jane Austen Book Club' with a tale of an old crime.'

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Rima Lanisell, heroine of Karen Joy Fowler's light and lovely "Wit's End," easily could have starred in Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art." The schoolteacher has mastered the art of losing: "The keys to the house, the post office box, the car. The car. A book report on Wilkie Collins's 'The Moonstone' plus the library's copy of the book plus her library card." Plus every member of her small family.

That loss sends her reeling to the home of her godmother, Addison Early, well-known author of a series of detective novels. Addison is famous for the detailed dioramas she creates for each novel. " 'Chain Stitch,' man strangled with the unfinished sleeve of a hand-knitted sweater (and really, you'd think there'd be more hand-knitted sweater murders)."

Once there, Rima starts going through Addison's old fan mail and discovers links between Addison, Rima's father (after whom Addison once named a murderer), and an inept white-supremacist cult.

Why a cranky, private author would welcome an indefinite house guest is never adequately explained. But even though "Wit's End" doesn't act much like a mystery on the surface, pay attention: As Fowler ("The Jane Austen Book Club") riffs on everything from "The Lost Boys" to why conservatives like mysteries, she's quietly dropping clues to a long-ago murder. Grade: B+

Yvonne Zipp

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