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MASSACRE ISLAND
by Martin Hegwood
St. Martin's Press, October 2002
260 pages
$6.50
ISBN: 0312983158


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jack Delmas is a private investigator operating on the Mississippi Gulf Coast who specializes in investigating insurance fraud. Occasionally, he takes on other assignments, generally because he has been recommended by his brother, Neal, and finds some sliver of interest in doing the work. The case that he is considering as the book opens is huge, as it involves the slaughter of 4 people in a beach house on Dauphin Island, Alabama. Murder is not a normal part of the tourist community's activities. The media have moved in, and interest in the case is at a fever pitch. The mother of one of the victims asks Jack to clear the name of her daughter, Rebecca Jordan. Wild accusations about the victims are circulating, including that they were dealing drugs or worse. Carolyn Caviss would like to set the record straight, at least as far as her daughter is concerned. Jack informs her that he can do what she asks, but that he is not looking for the killer, since that can be better done by official law enforcement agencies.

You would assume that Jack would look in-depth at each of the four people who were killed. That is not what happens. He never tries to find out anything about Rod Eubanks and relies on word of mouth about Kellie Lee Simmons. He focuses on the owner of the house, Jason Summers, who had lived a rather affluent lifestyle without any outward signs of how he made his money. Ostensibly, he sold goods that he bought in Mexico, but that doesn't explain the constant visits to Jason's home by groups of Mexican businessmen.

Jack teams up with a local deputy and PI wannabe by the name of Jimbo McInnis who in many ways causes more problems than he solves. Hegwood introduces a plethora of possible bad guys, ranging from a Mexican lawyer to a local bookie to an environmental activist group to a gang of racist skinheads to a team of elite Mexican hit men. Most of the suspects are not presented in any kind of depth, so it is difficult to determine the perpetrator. This is definitely a case of overkill.

I really like the lead character in this series, and appreciated the personal background that was introduced in this book that added depth to his portrayal, particularly his relationship to his 8-year-old daughter and his dawning acceptance of the realities of his relationship with his ex-wife. Hegwood's other strength is the depiction of the setting. You feel the oppressive humidity, you see the terrain of the swamps and bogs, you smell the scents in the air, you may even feel like swatting a pesky mosquito. But what you don't do is really get involved in the narrative, because the plotting goes hither and yon.

As a huge fan of PI type books, I was very disappointed in how Hegwood depicted the investigation in this book. It had no structure or depth; there were major gaps in the activities that Delmas undertook. For example, a key person who knows about Jason's business activities is mentioned several times but Jack doesn't get around to talking to him until almost the end of the book. I can't imagine what he had to report to his client, as he really didn't do an in-depth probe of each of the 4 victims and how they related to one another to understand the possible motives of the killer. In reality, the reader is able to figure out what Jason is up to long before Delmas does. In addition, the book followed a strange sequence that began at the middle of the investigation, moved back to the beginning and then again to the middle.

Overall, the book was a disappointment to me. It's unfortunate that Hegwood can do such a good job with the setting and characterization but such a poor one with the narrative elements of plotting and sequence. Not recommended.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, June 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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