Sunday, May 13, 2018

An Underwhelming Entry In a Series That Is Otherwise Very Good

Of the twenty-eight novels in the Brady Coyne series, this, the nineteenth, is for me the strangest and least successful of them all. It's a joint effort between William G. Tapply and Philip R. Craig, who writes a series set on Martha's Vineyard featuring an investigator named J. W. Jackson. They, or their publisher, apparently decided that it would be an excellent idea to bring Tapply's Boston lawyer and Craig's island detective together in a book that would be set on Martha's Vineyard.

Both Coyne and Jackson are avid fishermen, and the setup is that Coyne and Jackson are also old friends. Jackson has invited Brady to come visit for a week so that they can compete in a major fishing contest that is held a couple of times a year on the island. This is serendipitous because one of Brady's elderly clients, a woman named Sarah Fairchild, is dying of cancer. She has a large estate on the island and is trying to decide whether to sell it to a golf course development company or to a conservation group that would like to preserve the land as it is. She wants Brady to investigate the two proposals and advise her which would be best. Jackson, meanwhile, has been hired by a man to find his wife who has gone missing from the island.

The story is told in alternating chapters, one narrated by Jackson and the next by Coyne, but the collaboration did not work very well at all, at least for me. To begin with, it's an awkward construction. Each time the narrator changes, we have to take time to review what happened in the last chapter so that the current narrator is caught up on the action. So we get a lot of passages that go something like, "After Brady told me what he had learned from the police chief and what he had done at the liquor store, etc., etc., etc." As a result there's a lot of repetetive narrative here that you have to read from the POV of each character.

Another problem is that, for a mystery novel, there's way too much fishing going on. I've never read the Craig series, but readers of the Coyne series know that Brady loves to fish and there's always some discussion of fishing in each of the books. (The author, William G. Tapply, was an avid outdoorsman and a contributing editor to Field and Streammagazine.) But it doesn't ever get in the way of the story. Here it does, and in a big way. If you eliminated all the fishing scenes, you'd probably lose about a third of the book, and none of them really advances the story in any interesting or meaningful way. These scenes drain what little tension there is out of the story, and by the time I was halfway through the book, I was thinking, "Oh no; not another damned fishing scene!)

The last major problem with the book is that both Jackson and Coyne should both be sued for malpractice. Though he has a very worried client, Jackson spends very little time actually looking for the missing woman. In addition to all the time he wastes fishing, he also takes time out to build an elaborate three house for his kids!

Coyne's dereliction of duty may be even worse. He has a client at death's door who needs to make a quick decision about what to do with her property. She also has two greedy children and a grandson who are hoping that she dies before selling the property so that they can inherit it and do with it what they please. Brady's response is to take a couple of meetings in and around his fishing, and that's about the extent of his effort. He shows no sense of urgency at all.

There actually is a mystery buried in the middle of all this other activity, and it involves a number of women who seem to have gone missing from the island. Coyne and Jackson will both wind up working on the case, but only when it doesn't interfere with more important matters like fishing and building tree houses. And most readers will get to the solution a lot faster than Coyne and Jackson.

As I've suggested in my reviews of the previous eighteen books in this series, I really like the series and I really like the Brady Coyne character. But this one was a disappointment and I would strongly encourage anyone interested in dipping into the series to pick another entry. 2.5 stars, very generously rounded up to 3.

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