Tuna Bob lies dead at the base of Point Incognita Lighthouse, with a crushed skull and a bottle of 190-proof Everclear by his outstretched hand. This is the tantalizing starting point for an absorbing and delightful cozy mystery by talented writer S.C. Harker.
Binnacle Bay is running over with likely suspects and any mystery buff will thoroughly enjoy following along as Chief Pat Fitzlaff gamely traces a twenty-year-old trail of deceit and deception — starting with the dead man’s wife, who left the seaside town abruptly all those years ago and never returned.
Now her daughter, Jillian, has returned to find out what happened to her father — Robert “Tuna Bob” Flynn — and try to discover why her mother, who was killed a year earlier in an auto accident, left the charming little village by the bay. There must be a connection, she explains fervently to Fitzlaff, who is beginning to feel a little unsettled by the case himself.
“A frog chirped in the cool damp under the porch. This was the time of night I loved the best, but the more innocent it all seemed, the angrier I felt. Something evil had come to spoil my town — or perhaps it had been here all along, dormant, waiting for the right moment.”
This book is written in the spare prose style of a superb whodunit, letting the action flow naturally through Chief Fitzlaff’s methodical interactions with the main players.
When the prime suspect gets blown to bits in his fifth-wheel trailer, suspicion shifts to an elusive stranger who begins a campaign to frighten the daughter into dropping her interest in the matter. Powerful motives for murder come to light from another quarter, however, and the Chief has his hands full trying to find the proof he needs to formally open an investigation into the two deaths.
He immediately runs into trouble when the two new suspects “lawyer up,” and Binnacle Bay’s apoplectic mayor threatens to relieve him of duty for bringing such an unpleasant story to light. Bad for tourism, Hizzoner cries.
The small-town flavor of this novel will make you feel right at home, savoring the carefully crafted characters and the damp, salty air that flows onshore from the bay. The author’s descriptive prose is first-class, making the novel’s seaside setting as much a part of the story as the plotline:
“I had the window open and the breeze smelled of the bay, pleasantly briny mixed with the damp earth scent of my garden.The distant foghorn moaned in the channel, and once in awhile, a couple of sea lions croaked down on the docks.”
It’s a tangled web that’s spun out to best effect in the fast-moving final pages, leading the reader first down one promising track, then another. In the end, though, a couple of surprises await, and even Fitzlaff’s lovable hound Murphy is well-pleased.
You’ll be pleased, too, as another five-star Binnacle Bay mystery comes to a satisfying close. We look forward to the next book in this outstanding series.
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