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Mystery novelist Dunstan Mollock hasn’t even booked passage on the SS Latakia; he’s just come to see off his sister, Mavis, and her bridegroom, Todd Osborne. But when a last-minute search for a book puts him back aboard the ship after it’s cast off, he decides this might as well be the trip to Europe he’s never taken before. His pleasure is redoubled when he meets attractive whodunit fan Dhu Harrington and reconnects with his old school friend Walter Ghost, psychologist, explorer, and “the perfect amateur.” No sooner has Mollock settled into his accidental voyage than it’s upended by the death of Countess Lulu Fogartini, who’s been strangled in her stateroom and had her neck broken to boot. Since Capt. Porter knows of Ghost’s work with government intelligence, he asks him to lead the investigation, whose sole clue seems to be a pair of “luck dolls” of the sort the countess had been knitting ever since she was a girl in Cincinnati. Metafictional touches abound. Mollock treats his fellow passengers to a reading of his latest whodunit, which features Starrett sleuth Jimmie Lavender, and Ghost and Mollock puzzle over The House of Mystery, a film starring the countess and a man who may just be her killer.

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