Friday, March 2, 2018

The Island by M.J. Trow

First Sentence:  The quarter-moon did little to light Summer Street that night in Boston.

Investigators Matthew Grand and James Batchelor have travelled from England to Grand’s extensive family home on the coast of Maine for the wedding Grand’s sister, Martha.  Friends and family gather, including the surprise appearance of a cousin who hasn’t been seen for 14 years.  A greater surprise is the dead body found in an upstairs bedroom which leads to the question of what the tie is into the family.

An interesting beginning informs one as to where the story is going; or does it?  What it does, however, is provide introductions to the protagonists and their profession.  One thing which is a bit rare, but is refreshing, is to show the vulnerable side of one of the men.  The transition from Batchelor and Grand to their housekeeper, Mrs. Rackstraw, is nicely done.  She is such a delightful character.

Trow’s style is subtle and often humorous.  He slides in information, from location descriptions—“The docks at Southampton had not been conducive to chatting and Batchelor didn’t get a chance to share something the Grand until they were in their laughingly called stateroom, in which a cat would be totally safe from being swung.”—to family structures—“My mother comes from a family of eight girls, though I doubt they’ll all come to the wedding.  Four of them are dead anyway, and one is in Wisconsin, so as good as.  Auntie Mimi is as mad as a rattler and doesn’t travel.”  The inclusion of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) as a character is a wonderful touch.

It’s also a nice touch that, despite having been introduced to a myriad of characters, the murder victim is unexpected.  Which also means the motive is as much a mystery as is the killer

The truest sign of an author with an exceptional voice is that one has a desire to quote nearly every page.  Trow is one of the few authors who can write parallel conversations—conversation held by two sets of characters at the same time in different places, without any confusion as to the speakers—and get away with it. He has a wonderful way of evoking the senses—“He had never known it before, not in London, but it really was possible, he realized to smell the spring.  There was a green smell in the air, the smell of sap on the rise, along side the sound of buds creaking with the effort of bursting.  He felt he could almost smell the warmth of the sun…”

The Island” is filled with humor, and excellent characters, plus there are murders; violent ones.  This is the rare instance when one can call a mystery a delightful read.

THE ISLAND (Hist Mys-Grand and Batchelor-Maine-1873) – VG
Trow, M.J. – 4th in series
        Crème de la Crime – Jan 2018

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