15-year-old Julianna parents haven't been getting along since her father's architecture career started taking up all his time. Her mother decides to renew her neglected art career with a change -- moving back to England. Her three adopted Californian children aren't excited about leaving their father and schools, but they make the best of it. However, they have hardly arrived in Blackthorn before one of their new acquaintances -- an art school friend their mother had just gotten back in touch with -- is murdered. Locals are happy to pin the crime on the town "lager lout," Simon, but Julianna can't help but recall that practically everyone she's meet so far has expressed a wish to kill selfish, rude Liza. And when she starts investigating, it is clear that someone has something to hide. But is it Liza's murder, or an older secret?
This nice solid, traditional small-town murder mystery, of the sort where almost everyone has a motive for doing away with the unpleasant victim, or for lying to keep secrets. Reiss adds a nice twist by combining this with the (again, traditional and well-executed) YA themes of identity, familial change, and growing up. Repeated nosy questions about her adoption and "real" parents cause Julianna to wonder anew about the birth mother she can't remember, but who may have been British. What happened to her? Why can't Julianna, who was adopted at age 5, remember anything from her earlier life? Is she about to lose her second dad as well? And does that cute red-headed boy next door have a girlfriend?
Julianna's personal life and the mystery fit together very naturally and believably, although a couple elements were a bit too coincidental. Reiss does a great job giving minor characters depth, and I especially liked that the nine-year-old siblings were realistic kids with differing interests rather than the usual precocious or bratty cardboard-cut-out kids. Will definitely look for more by this author.