Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Doug Burgess
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2018
296 pages
ISBN: 1464210241

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Since David Hazard was fired from his position as a historian at a university, it seems natural that he would pump his grandmother, Maggie Hazard, and her circle of friends for their life stories in the Narragansett Bay town of Little Compton. Those of us who (callously) label old women old "biddies" or "town gossips" are in for a bit of a surprise when David and the police chief begin looking into the murder of Maggie's best friend and next-door neighbor.

Dramatis personae: David Hazard, the first-person narrator, who has been fired from his position as a history professor because of a secret he had kept from the university administration; his grandmother, Maggie Hazard, with whom David lives since his mother's death, and who was a book-keeper for a wrecking company until her Alzheimer's disease progressed; Maggie's next-door neighbor, her best friend Emma (whose degree was in oceanography), whom we first meet in an unfortunate state of having been done in; her paramour Teddy Johnson, who sailed away to war and never came back; Aunt Constance Heckman, a tough businesswoman who owns the wrecking company that once employed Maggie, and who knows the town's secrets; Irene Belcourt, the scout for the wreckers; Pastor Paige, who is sententious beyond measure; Billy Dyer, the police chief, who has a history with David; Marcus and Alicia Rhinegold, dripping in money, who arrive on their yacht Calliope, take up residence in the crumbling Armstrong mansion, and set off a string of fatal events; Cap'n Barrow, a ghost who sits in the wingback chair from time to time; the Hired Help, one or more kitchen poltergeists; the Molinaris, shadowy drug lords in Texas; fishermen and –women; neighborhood gossips; barflies.

David, newly fired from his assistant professorship at a nearby university, is newly able to come to his grandmother's rescue when she telephones him with an incoherent message. Incoherence is not a new problem, since his grandmother is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease, but her ramblings seem to indicate that a man has died. When David arrives at Little Compton, his grandmother's hometown and where he grew up, he finds that Emma, his grandmother's best friend and caregiver, has been bludgeoned to death in her kitchen.

David decides to spend some months with his grandmother, since she requires care, and, to entertain her and her two old friends and co-workers, Irene and Constance, he begins recording their histories. Since David's family as well as Irene's and Constance's families go back for many generations in Little Compton, the number of skeletons and the number of closets are plentiful enough to keep the reader very interested in what happened to whom.

At Emma's funeral, besides the sententious preacher, the town elders who attend all funerals, and those whose friendship calls them to come, an obviously wealthy couple who clearly do not belong show up. They are the owners of an impossibly well-turned out yacht that is docked at the town's most well-known and most decrepit historic mansion. When they invite David to visit, he cannot help but go, opening the old door, passing the covered and dusty furnishings, and climbing the creaky staircase with a man he scarcely knows in imitation of every gothic fiction we have read. In the wake of this visit, which David does survive, David's friendship with the police chief helps him discover that wealthy and mysterious Marcus and Alicia Rhinegold are not who they say they are. Is it their possible connection to a drug cartel in Texas that could have anything to do with Emma's death?

Events seem to unfold naturally, and the narrative, full of the gossip of independent and stubborn survivors, is a good yarn. The author, Doug Burgess, may wish to double-check facts, however: manure is not the fertilizer that explodes. It's ammonium nitrate. And in El Paso, Texas, Italian Mafiosi would never be allowed to set up shop. One of the Mexican cartels would vaporize them. In a subsequent edition, perhaps Molinari might be better changed to Martinez.

§ Dr. Cathy Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a fan of the well-fashioned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, August 2018

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]