Friday, August 03, 2012


SCONE ISLAND by Frederick Ramsay: I don't ordinarily pick up a mystery series in the middle (or in this case, on the eighth book), but I have been known to when the subject of a particular entry intrigues me. In this case, the allure was an island off the coast of Maine. Since I've been fascinated with Maine most of my life (despite the entirety of my Maine-related knowledge having been gleaned from Stephen King novels and episodes of MURDER SHE WROTE), a mystery set on a remote Maine island sounded fantastic. And parts of it were, so perhaps I shouldn't complain.

There is good stuff here, in the eighth entry in the Ike Schwartz series (which begins with ARTSCAPE). Ike and his probably-future-fiancee Ruth have a delightful rapport, with witty noir-inspired banter that is a joy to read. You can hear Bogart, except when so many sentences end with "See?" - and then you hear Jimmy Stewart. Either way, it's fast-paced and funny. Here's an early slice:

"Is it just me or has the whole world gone nuts?"
"A little of both, I think. If I had to choose, I'd go with the world, but that's only my take. So, the problem is what? The eggs too cold, too runny? Coffee is...what? Too strong, too weak, too sour, too hot, what? Or is it the company? What's the problem, Goldilocks?"
"Not you, Schwartz, and not breakfast. Breakfast always smells good, even when it isn't. The eggs are...yellow and the coffee is brown. What more could I possibly expect from a cop who cooks?"

The tight-knit community is well-drawn, too, and descriptions of the landscape evocative. The problem is that the plot is half bad spy novel and half cozy mystery. I like spy novels, and I like cozy mysteries, but the mash-up doesn't do it for me. Ike is a current sheriff and former CIA agent, so his involvement in a murder investigation while on vacation is plausible by cozy mystery standards. But the spy bit just doesn't ring true. I have to wonder if Ramsay's spy-related research extended only to James Bond films, and maybe Mission: Impossible. The snappy dialogue that works so well between Ike and Ruth is entirely implausible between the CIA guys. The backstory that is slowly revealed is not only convoluted and overly drawn out - it's boring. I couldn't bring myself to care about the spy plotline, which was unfortunate since that took up the biggest chunk of pages. Ike and Ruth, I loved. Ike and Ruth on Maine island, I loved. Ike and Ruth and a murky spy operation type thing with too many players and too little logic...not as fun. A murder on an island is basically a locked-room mystery waiting to be told, but Ramsay dragged us off the island and into the CIA too frequently to be immersed.

I marked several passages where the spy nonsense is particularly ridiculous, but it feels mean to just start plopping them into the review. I liked Ike and Ruth enough to look into the first book in the series, but if every entry has this spy stuff in it (and I love spy stuff - I've read every John LeCarre), I'm not interested. I would enjoy Ike and Ruth in a real cozy mystery, especially a locked-room one in such a compelling locale.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley from the publisher through Netgalley.

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