RogerBW's Blog

Eye of the Storm, Marcia Muller 16 September 2016

1988 mystery; seventh in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's sister Patsy has a new boyfriend, and a renovation project in the Sacramento Delta. But someone's playing tricks, sabotaging the project and scaring off the workers; Sharon takes a long weekend away from her job to help Patsy out.

Although the site is a remote one, an island reclaimed after the Swamp Land Act of 1850 and used as the foundation of a pear-growing fortune, this is not a locked island mystery. The former wetlands destroyed by agriculture still allow for travel – indeed, the project is to restore the old mansion as a "boatel", offering meals and optional accomodation to passing boaters – and it seems entirely possible that the villain isn't one of the people who've come together to try to make the project happen.

That's not the case, of course. Not a spoiler: it would be a very unsatisfying mystery if an unknown outsider had dunnit.

The clue density is pretty low here, and a fair bit of time is spent interacting with the six main people on the project: Patsy, Sharon's sister, former hippy chick with three children (including Andrew, sulky pre-teenager) by three fathers; Evans, her new squeeze, wannabe chef; Neal, the guy with the money; Angela, the accountant; Stephanie, expert with boats; and Denny, the general contractor. There's also Max, who runs the chain ferry that links the island to the road network, and Sam, Neal's brother who's turned up to look into the project after receiving an anonymous tip (presumably from whoever scared off the workers and left a hanged doll where one of the kids could find it). All of them are well-portrayed: some of them are more congenial than others, but all of them have reasons for doing what they do. Yes, even the murderer(s), though the chain of logic is pretty thoroughly twisted and didn't entirely convince me (even if everything had gone as they planned it's not entirely clear how this would have helped them achieve their goals).

And of course there are storms, one relatively minor one (during which Sharon discovers the first murder victim and nearly becomes the second) and one rather more serious one as the climax. There's some excellent physical writing here as Sharon struggles in wind and floodwater, and chases down the killer.

There's only really one flaw in the mystery, which is that one absolutely definitive clue is given a little over half-way through; when I read it, I knew immediately who and (at least in a general sense) why. And one rather dated point: Angela's possession of a computer in her office is considered an extravagance rather than a standard business tool. Well, 1988 is pre-Windows-3…

Pacing is sometimes a little slow, and this is definitely a story for the reader who wants character interest as well as puzzles. I very much enjoyed it. Followed by There's Something in a Sunday.

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