Steps to the Altar

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Benni Harper is married to the police chief of San Celina in central California and heavily involved in volunteer community activities. The historical society is currently staging an exhibition of old-fashioned handmade quilts with such fanciful names as “Steps to the Altar.” When Benni is asked to catalog the contents of four trunks originally belonging to a woman accused of murdering her socially prominent husband in 1945, she becomes obsessed with finding out whether Maple Bennett Sullivan was really guilty and what ever became of her and her alleged accomplice/lover.

Benni’s life is already stressful enough. She and her husband are moving into a new home while it is still in escrow. She is engaged in preparations for two elaborate weddings as well as for the annual Mardi Gras festival. Her husband’s old flame, a former partner on the Los Angeles Police Department’s narcotics squad, reappears and tries to reignite his passion. Benni is also responsible for supervising museum volunteers. She frantically balances all her activities, watches her marriage falling apart, and engages in a little innocent affair of her own while tracking down colorful elderly types who have information about the notorious Sullivan murder.

This ultra-feminine soft-boiled mystery novel is full of girl talk, descriptions of bridal showers, romantic relationships, sewing circles, culinary arts, women’s apparel, upscale entertaining, and other matters of interest to female readers. The heroine’s curiosity takes her to such picturesque places as Monterey, Hearst Castle, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, and Idyllwild. It is easy to understand the popularity of the Benni Harper mysteries with readers who like their murders spiced with romance, travel, and social revelry.