The Daily Bongo

Murder Walks the Plank

One of my favorite authors is Carolyn Hart. Carolyn writes books with a definite cozy feel to them, and is the author of both the Death on Demand and Henry O series. The Death on Demand books rank as some of my favorite reads. The main characters are Annie Darling, who owns a mystery book store in Broward's Rock, a small island off the coast of South Carolina, and her husband, Max Darling. Max Darling runs a detective agency, but it takes a back seat to his golf game and other pleasures. Max has had an easy life financially, and because of this, he works for pleasure more than for money. The series started almost twenty years ago with Death on Demand. In that book, Annie Laurance has inherited a mystery book store from her uncle, and runs away to it to escape her feelings for Max Darling. He follows her there, and as the books progress, they become engaged and then married. As is the case with cozies, there's alot of murder that goes on in the small community of Broward's Rock. The characters in the book are very entertaining, and include Max's mother, Laurel (a real screwball eccentric), Henny Brawley (mystery fan, book buyer, and Annie's partner/competitor in sleuthing), and in later books, Annie's father, Pudge (who hasn't been a very dutiful father) and stepsister, Rachel. With the Death on Demand series, you don't just get the mystery of the story. Carolyn Hart shows her knowledge and love of mysteries by filling the books with references to other mystery books and authors. Here's an example of the items mentioned in one of the books, Something Wicked. Also, in each book, Annie has a "guess that book" contest. At the beginning of the book, the reader learns of a set of five paintings that are displayed in Annie's bookstore. Each painting depicts a mystery book that fits in a particular theme. The mystery within the mystery is to figure out which books are represented. At the end of the book, one of the characters (usually Henny Brawley) comes up with the answer of which books are depicted. I think that at the most, I have managed to guess three of the five.

The book that I just finished reading was Murder Walks the Plank, the fifteenth in the series, published in 2004. Annie has planned a benefit mystery cruise, and during the cruise, Pamela Potts, a local do-good volunteer, falls off the boat and into the water. Max rescues the unconscious Pamela and she is rushed to the hospital. Now the mystery begins because the reason Pamela is on the cruise is because on the day of the cruise, she received a free ticket. Pamela assumed it was from Annie, but of course, it wasn't. Annie with the help of local mystery writer, Emma Clyde, tries to figure out who tried to murder Pamela. Does the murder attempt on Pamela tie in with her daily visits to Meg Heath, the weathly widow of Duff Heath? More dead bodies pile up while Annie and Max try to convince the police chief, Billy Cameron, that these are acts of murder, and not unrelated accidents or suicides. Of course, every step that Annie takes brings her closer to danger and closer to the desperate murderer.

I really did enjoy this trip to Broward's Rock. Murder Walks the Plank was very typical of the series. You have Annie rushing headlong around the island trying to solve the crime while other subplots burble along. The major subplot this time deals with Annie's father, Pudge, and Rachel. Pudge is in love with a woman whose son, Cole, is the same age as Rachel. Of course, Cole opposes the relationship, and Rachel is feeling abandoned by her father. This adds an undercurrent of tension to the story as a whole. Cole also may have witnessed something dealing with Pamela's fall from the boat, so that ties in nicely with the main theme of the murder. I thought that the puzzle was a good one, and I have to admit that I didn't start to suspect the murderer until the last quarter of the book. As for the five mystery paintings, I only guessed the first painting. That doesn't sound promising, but I think that the books were more difficult to guess this time around. Everytime I read a Death on Demand book, I enjoy it. I love Annie because she's a person like me. She loves to eat, and enjoys a fried fish sandwich with the same gusto with which she devours butter brickel ice cream and peanut butter cookies. Ms. Hart tries to temper Annie's diet with Max's health conscious one, and tries to have Annie not give in to the cookie monster within. I would strongly recommend this book, and the series as a whole.

June 6, 2005