Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
The team of Rose and Nettleton has done it again! Carl Hiaasen move over—you now have competition. Like their previous novel The Big Grabowski, this new mystery is fast-paced, funny, and full of colorful characters. It even treats serious themes like logging and sewage treatment, the origin of religious icons, and personal redemption. I laughed with nearly every turn of the page and was only disappointed when the book ended. I enthusiastically recommend it for your reading pleasure.
The setting is the same as the previous novel, the quirky Pacific Coast community called Devil’s Harbor, now run by the gay mayor, French Canadian Henri Trevelle, ex-pro hockey legend. The mayor spends most of the book worried about the aging sewage treatment system, which is working at its limit and requires extreme water conservation. When the system is further strained by pilgrims coming to town to view Christ’s image scorched onto a crab cake, the mayor adopts the temporary solution of putting a porta-john on every front lawn. Only selling timber from town trust land can bring in enough money to save the cash-strapped town.
Even with all the fun, plotting is complex here. There is a murder, and this is a murder mystery. But it’s easy to lose track of that thread in the midst of your laughter (we are laughing at ourselves, of course). The victim is a professional tree setter who is hired by one of the town’s well meaning citizens to keep Henri from logging the land. It turns out that this mercenary ecologist has a history with scams and preying on women, so when a logger cuts down the tree where the mercenary is perched, only to find him already dead, not many tears are shed. However, murder is murder. Molly Donovan is a nosy small town reporter with a predilection for trouble and an irrepressible desire to show up Sheriff Greg Erdman, who is now running for the office. She steps in to solve the mystery.
With all this going on, you can well imagine that there is a plethora of suspects. The list contains the mayor, the mercenary ecologist’s girl friend, the environmentalist who hired him, and the women who were seduced by him. While Molly digs into the dead man’s past and finally solves the mystery, Henri reforms the mercenary’s girl friend, the environmentalist who hired the mercenary discovers he’s not cut out to be a vegetarian woodsman, the crab cake is mass produced, and the discoverer of the original crab cake has a different and more secular epiphany.
Characterization is handled well here. In spite of the humor, the characters are vibrant—one could expect to find them in just such a community, eccentric refugees that have settled there to escape from who knows what in this complicated world in which we live. This is my only nitpicking complaint: to me the murderer is the character that is least real and least developed. I would like to know more about this character. In fact, when I learned who the murderer is, I had to skim back through the book, trying to find out more. I didn’t have much success. You will have to see if you would also like to know the culprit better.
By the way, reading this novel didn’t satisfy my longstanding love for crab cakes. But the best ones are from the Chesapeake Bay, not the Pacific Northwest. Maybe that’s why Rose and Nettleton had to scorch theirs? Or turn them into inedible religious icons?
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