The first pages of Beth Gutcheon’s “Death at Breakfast” are a gentle entry into a sometimes outrageous mystery. The book’s two protagonists, longtime friends Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin, have just begun a post-retirement vacation at a gorgeous Maine resort called Oquossoc Mountain Inn. Besides hiking and canoeing, they look forward to gourmet cooking classes with the inn’s chef.

But standing on a wide veranda the first morning of their vacation, Hope’s camera aimed at her friend, Maggie says something that hints at darker things to come.

“When your picture’s being taken,” she says, “don’t you always wonder if it’s the one that will run with your obituary?”

Hope jokingly calls Maggie “a strange woman” for entertaining such a weird thought. But with the arrival of troublesome guest Alexander Antippas, things get weirder.

A gigantic, ill-mannered man, he reduces the inn’s 23-year-old clerk to tears because she can’t rent him a room where smoking is permitted – there are none at the inn – or make special provision for his wife’s lap dog.

Inn owner Gabriel Gurrell temporarily pacifies Antippas by placing the man’s wife in a section of the inn where dogs are allowed, and giving her obstreperous husband a private room with a balcony where he can smoke his cigars.

Not long after, things turn deadly when a suspicious nighttime fire destroys part of the inn. All guests escape except Alexander Antippas, whose charred body is found in bed. First responders are hugely surprised when they discover a dead rattlesnake beneath the body.

Cherry Weaver, the same hotel clerk Antippas verbally abused and who was later fired for incompetence, is charged with murder. Her motive, as the police see it, is revenge.

But midlife vacationers Hope and Maggie disagree. They uncover facts about guests at the inn police have overlooked, and they suspect that Cherry’s confession may not be sound.

Readers sense from the outset that Cherry is innocent , and it’s a nice departure from the ordinary when two retired women unfamiliar with crime and law lead the charge to make things right.

Still, Gutcheon’s 10th novel has some shortcomings. Some characters seem unnecessary to the book’s plot, including guests at the cooking school described early in the novel.

And it seems an unlikely scenario for guests with a troublesome shared history to suddenly show up together in a relatively small inn.

Finally, the author might have created a faster-moving read if she’d kept her focus on the group at Oquossoc Mountain Inn. Revelation of a suicide in South Hampton, New York, and too much focus on Antippas’ family in California slow the plot.

Nevertheless, “Death At Breakfast” is an imaginative story about an original Vacationland misadventure.

Three cheers for Gutcheon for creating two super sleuths of retirement age whose sharp observation and life experience solve a crime and right a wrong.

Lloyd Ferriss is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.