Believable and lovable characters, notably nonagenarian-to-be Julia Ward Howe Tilley (who wears "twinkling" sneakers), add freshness to a familiar story line in Meier's ninth mystery (after 2001's Wedding Day Murder) featuring Lucy Stone, wife, mom, part-time reporter and amateur sleuth. After a cold and cloudy March in quaint Tinker Cove, Maine, the sun is finally shining as Lucy joins her four friends for their weekly breakfast at Jake's Donut Shack. To fight the doldrums and to honor Miss Tilley, the former librarian, they decide to organize a townwide 90th birthday party for her. The anticipation of the party plus Lucy's resolve to lose weight, do something about her wrinkles and dye her hair to cover the newly discovered gray lift her spirits until she hears that respected lawyer Sherman Cobb has been found dead in his office. The police declare death by suicide, but Cobb's partner suspects murder and asks Lucy to investigate. Meanwhile, Miss Tilley is suddenly faced with a niece she never knew existed, who arrives with her biker son only to move in and take over, much to the dismay of the older woman's friends. As Lucy's inquiries lead to the disclosure of long-hidden Tilley family secrets, she must also deal with a teenage daughter and her co-ed sleepover, her son's troubles at college and her husband's accident. Mothers everywhere will identify with Lucy and the domestic problems she encounters, while established fans will find this one well up to standard. (Aug. 6) Forecast: Casual browsers should be attracted by the bright, bold jacket art depicting a death's-head decorated birthday cake and a pair of grim reaper salt-and-pepper shakers. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.