Tuesday, June 26, 2018

San Juan Islands Mystery #2, AGAINST THE UNDERTOW, Bethany Maines

Bethany Maines admits she cares a lot about the entertainment tucked into the mysteries she writes -- she weaves clever grins into her plots as easily as the suspense. In the second book of her San Juan Islands Murder Mystery series, AGAINST THE UNDERTOW, displaced actress Tish (never Patricia!) Yearly hopes to get her wedding venue established at last, so she can start earning some money. Jobs on the rainy islands off the coast of Washington State are scarce and don't pay terribly well. But she's scraped up just enough funding to create a professional kitchen in a small house with  gorgeous surroundings, and why shouldn't it work out?

Well, one thing making it tough is Tish's role as junior partner (a way of making her caregiving more acceptable) to her aging grandfather Tobias Yearly, an ex-CIA agent determined to turn Tish and himself into official private investigators. Of course at his age, he's not exactly "up" on all the technology that "snoops" now use -- good thing Tish can handle that end. Meanwhile he's prudently made up business cards that should do for both of them: T. Yearly, plus Tish's cell number.

I chuckled my way through the first book in this series, An Unseen Current -- well, to be honest, I chortled and belly-laughed enough to disturb my spouse's TV watching -- and Maines's earlier series, the Carrie Mae espionage adventures, were also side-splitting. So the mild chaos at the opening of AGAINST THE UNDERTOW seemed promising to me: Tish's not-quite-boyfriend (she's officially seeing someone else, but the chemistry can't be mistaken), Sheriff's Deputy Emmett Nash, needs a quick escape and alibi from accusation of murder, and the next thing you know, Tish is quietly letting her grandfather know she's got the deputy tucked into the trunk of their car, as they exit the ferry, the main route to the islands.

Count on quick twists, as Tish's BFF from the mainland arrives in "cute" overalls to help with the rehab, and a mess of messed-up hippies turns threatening (yep, plenty of gasps of amusement in there), while Tish is trying to take crime-solving seriously for the sake of Deputy Nash (and so she can get back to her construction work). She tells her feisty grandpa that she's concerned:
"I feel like we should be further along in solving Tyler's murder. Or have more suspects. Or something."

"It's the suspects that trouble me," said Tobias leaning back. "I'm not saying women can't kill -- they're perfectly capable. I just don't particularly see these ones doing it."

"Well, apparently anyone can be a killer," said Tish. "If Detective Spring is to be believed."

"No, not really," said Tobias. "What he means is that evil people can be perfectly normal. You know why the rate of PTSD went up so much in Vietnam?"

"Clearer reporting, destigmatization, and a better understanding of the problem?"

"Thank you, Miss Social Sciences. No. Well, probably those had an effect. But also, there was better training. They trained soldiers to shoot a human targets, made it more instinctual, got better guns and made it easier for kids to shoot people."
Grandpa Tobias's point is that their suspects so far -- Clover, who's probably insane, and Nora, who stinks as even an ex-spouse to the accused deputy -- don't feel like they're motivated by the usual killing causes: love, money, or rage.

Of course, Tobias has candidates for the killer role, based on his secret files that he's compiled on just about everyone on the islands. But Tish isn't supposed to leak word of those files ... a difficult position to be in, considering other people already suspect they exist.

My money's on the hippies. Take their leader, Mars, for instance, who tells Tish, "Death is just the next stage."

Trust me, Tish can't leave that performance note alone -- she's on it. Rain or shine. No, wait a minute, this is the Pacific Northwest -- rain or more rain, really.

If you're looking for a summer mystery that's likely to get you cheered up, in spite of murder and risk, and will find a way to have the forces of good triumph (or at least get kissed?), pick up AGAINST THE UNDERTOW. Published by one of several businesses that Maines plays with, Blue Zephyr Press, and available at online retailers in softcover or ebook. You don't need to read the books in sequence -- let me know if you find yourself lured to get more Bethany Maines capers.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here

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