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by Francine Mathews
Soho, May 2020
256 pages
ISBN: 1616959932

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Merry Folger has a long list of to-dos as her wedding date gets very close. Her prospective mother-in-law is very high maintenance, for one thing. There are all the hassles that normally accompany a wedding in a tourist area off-season: catering issues, floral issues; hair and make-up, etc. Anyone who has ever been involved on the female side of a non-minimalist wedding knows whereof I speak.

And that's just half the problem list. She has a new boss, a guy who took a major step down the career ladder to come to a backwater like Nantucket from Chicago. He's not very inclined to let Merry have any extra time off for the wedding, although he can't do much about the honeymoon overseas. There's a lot she can be doing, since a category 3 hurricane is headed right for Nantucket.

The hurricane means a lot of extra work for Jack Mather and his daughter Dionis. They are paid caretakers for quite a few people on a local off-the-grid island, Tuckernuck. They have to get all the year-round residents off the island, a difficult job all by itself. And they have to board up all the houses of those people. The only way on and off Tuckernuck is Jack's boat and his barge.

As readers well know, it can't possibly be this simple. The hired help at the retired NFL quarterback's mansion bails, leaving two horses in the barn. Jack has a heart attack. A boat goes aground on the wrong side of Tuckernuck; two people are on board, both shot. One doesn't make it through the helicopter ride to the hospital; the other has a head wound and is in a coma. Merry suspects and can't prove that her boss has some connection with the people on the boat. Dionis risks her life to go back to Tuckernuck to deal with the horses, where she encounters another person with a gunshot wound; she doesn't know about the boat wreck or the first two victims. She has no idea how her Dad is doing. Merry is doing her best to investigate the crime(s) on the boat and deal with all the logistical issues raised by the storm. And get married.

This is the sixth Merry Folger novel; there were four written in the 1990's and then a hiatus until 2017. Another break until 2020. Francine Mathews has honed her writing skills; she has a long-standing series writing as Stephanie Barron. Much of the time I spent reading this book involved picking it up, reading a chapter or two, putting it down. Sometimes I put it down for a few minutes, sometimes hours, never days. I always knew where I was in the story. I had no trouble keeping track of the characters. I cared about most of them. Reading about trying to get anything done during the storm was, for me, a strain; just as with this pandemic and political morass, I need a break fairly regularly. So I won't blame it on the writing. My willingness to believe was strained a time or two, mostly when Dionis was in and out of the water and came far closer to hypothermia than she should have and survived. Most of the threads are neatly woven into a coherent story by the end; whatever's left can fuel the next Nantucket book.

I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, October 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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