For accuracy's sake, Diane Johnson's new novel should probably be titled Le Mort, since its clever complications—affaires both legal and sexual—all proceed from the demise, under an avalanche in the French Alps, of spry, seventyish Adrian Venn. Over the past few decades he has fathered four children by three different women—one French, one British, and, most recently, one American, Kerry, who is temporarily comatose from her own brush with the avalanche.
Johnson assembles a gaggle of potential heirs and amoureux inside the Hôtel Croix St. Bernard, and it is mostly through the earnest, well-intentioned gaze of one of the guests, Amy Hawkins (a wealthy California dot-commer, not quite thirty), that we perceive them: self-pitying Posy (Venn's British daughter) and her sunny French half-sister, Vee; Kip Canby, Kerry's teenage brother; Robin Crumley, an unexpectedly heterosexual British poet; and Emile Abboud, Vee's sexy French-Tunisian husband, whose success as a TV talking head is assured by his loathing of all things American.
The uncertain cause of the avalanche and the Orient-Express feel of the shared hotel push the novel toward the mystery genre, and conflicting French and English inheritance laws induce some fine cross-cultural commotion. An element of farce—zippy but not Feydeau-frantic—keeps everything energized.