Sunday, October 07, 2018

Classic Village Mystery Turns Dark and Irish, with Andrea Carter's Debut, DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH

Sometimes a review runs later than the release date -- just because life gets hectic. And that's the case here for Andrea Carter's stunning debut crime novel DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH (Oceanview Publishing). The US edition came out a few weeks ago, and it's well worth grabbing a copy. Despite being a debut, the book from this barrister-turned-novelist took laurels at the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair, and is tautly plotted and a great new twist on the traditional village mystery.

When solicitor Benedicta ("Ben") O'Keefe tags along on a last-minute check of an old church being sold, the last thing she expects is a set of bones, wrapped tenderly in a blanket, in a crypt that hadn't been on the property map. Looks like the sale may not consummate. Meanwhile, along the coast of Inishowen, "everyone" expects the bones are proof of murder -- of a missing bridegroom from six years earlier. After all, who else could it be?

But soon there's another death in the village, and like any good Irish complication, it looks like a political twist underneath, one that may have its source in Ireland's terrible grief-stricken history. Or could it be just the results of the usual drinking and grieving? Ben's in the midst of it all, as a friend and neighbor as well as lawyer, and nothing seems straightforward:
"Well, what's happened?" I prompted.

Molloy took a sip of his coffee and leaned back, shaking his head as if in disbelief at what he was about to say.

"It looks as if we won't be opening a murder investigation in relation to the bones in the crypt, after all."

"How come?" I asked. "Last time I was talking to you, there was still no cause of death."

"That wasn't entirely true," Molloy admitted. "We'd established that the body had head injuries and a broken neck, which were probably the cause of death. We now know they were fatal injuries incurred as a result of a car accident."

I was confused. That sounded uncannily like Danny Devitt's injuries and circumstances of death. 
It's no coincidence. And Ben's effort to keep up with what the investigation reveals will turn inside out a lot of her relationships with what she thinks she knows about her home and her friends.

Carter's debut has already been followed by two more crime novels, and it's tempting to try to order them from across the Atlantic, since it will be a while until they arrive in "the States." Meanwhile, here's DEATH AT WHITEWATER CHURCH to savor -- an up-to-date and sophisticated re-braiding of what Agatha Christie did so well. My only wish would be to find more depth in Ben O'Keefe -- but maybe the sequels will satisfy that hunger. I hope so!

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

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