Series: Gray Whale Inn Mysteries
Book Source: public library
Murder on the Rocks, the first in Karen MacInerney’s “Gray Whale Inn Mystery” series, should have a lot going for it. MacInerney’s writing is competent, if not inspired, and all the necessary elements are in place for a typical cozy mystery, including several delicious-sounding recipes in the back of the book. Sadly, it ultimately proves a disappointment.
The heroine/amateur sleuth, Natalie Barnes, is the new owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Maine’s Cranberry Islands. Her handsome, charming neighbor (and tenant) carves toy sailboats and driftwood artwork while serving as the island’s deputy. The cast of characters also includes a bevy of likable-but-eccentric and not-so-likable island residents, Natalie’s close friend and her college-age niece, and, of course, the inn’s current residents. The inevitable threat to both the island and Nat’s inn surfaces immediately, in the form of an obnoxious developer with plans to build a glitzy golf resort regardless of the impact on the island’s character or its endangered terns. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.
So why did I find the book disappointing — no, to be completely honest, annoying? Chiefly because there’s no way an intelligent woman would act as stupidly as Natalie does. [Spoiler alert] She knows she is the mainland investigating officer’s chief suspect. Yet despite being specifically warned to leave the victim’s room alone, she searches it, without gloves, leaving her fingerprints everywhere. She removes evidence from the room, and withholds other evidence from the police. It’s true that the investigator has it in for her, but Nat keeps digging herself a deeper and deeper hole, with no apparent sense of self-preservation. She makes one poor decision after another. Of course, I also couldn’t figure out why the investigating officer didn’t just arrest her for tampering with evidence; he believes her guilty of murder, and he certainly had the prints to prove the lesser charge. In other words, the characters’ actions simply don’t ring true, given who and what they are.
I realize that a certain suspension of disbelief is required for most cozies, which inherently lack realism to begin with. In real life the police usually do a decent job of investigating crimes, and amateurs are rarely in a position to solve one, let alone a string of them. Then there’s the alarming frequency with which dead bodies turn up in a small community, often discovered by the same person. (Seriously, would you want to live in St. Mary Mead, or in any of the small towns featured in American cozies? Or be friends with the amateur sleuth? I used to think that if I saw Jessica Fletcher coming, I’d run for the hills. As soon as she showed up, someone would drop dead within hours, and I would much rather it wasn’t me.*) What distinguishes a good cozy from a merely mediocre one stems in part from how well the author handles that dichotomy by providing enough believability to buoy up that suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, MacInerney falls short on that front.
* I’m showing my age a bit. Murder, She Wrote was quite popular when I was young.