Summertime is a good time for a murder mystery; the perfect kind of story to take to the cottage, beach, or camp for a light, entertaining read. Death on Darby’s Island by award-winning author Alice Walsh fits the bill perfectly, although it won’t be released until August (this review is based on an Advance Reading Copy).
Darby’s Island is a small outport that is connected to the mainland by a ferry service. The story takes place in 1975 with flashbacks to the mid-sixties, so it is actually two stories in one. Blanche Ste Croix is a young RCMP officer stationed in Corner Brook and one of the first female ones in Newfoundland. She was born on Darby’s Island and is back to investigate allegations of fraud at the senior’s home there. She arrives on the same ferry as “Prospero” a travelling hypnotist who is putting on a show that evening in the community hall. Also on the island is Archbishop Malloy, there for the blessing of the fishing fleet the next day.
At Prospero’s show that evening, Blanche’s father-in-law Jake is hypnotized into believing he is a seagull and takes off out of the hall before he can be un-hypnotized. Later, two inebriated locals stumble over the dead body of the archbishop and a bewildered Jake is found cowering in a fish store on the beach with a bloodied knife in his hands. Now Blanche has a murder investigation on her hands. No one can believe Jake did it, but everyone is a suspect as Ms. Walsh throws so many red herrings into the story that it would appear several people would have a motive for killing the man, given his shady past.
Blanche’s past also is stirred up, and that is the reason for the flashbacks to an earlier decade in her life, growing up in poverty with six siblings and another on the way. Her father is an abusive drunkard, and the scenes in which he takes his anger out on his family are disturbing, to say the least. Eventually, the children are taken away by the Children’s Aid and the family is split up. Blanche is the oldest, almost sixteen, and is determined to get an education, eventually getting into police work as a civilian, then as a member of the force.
While Death on Darby’s Island is well-written and well-plotted out, there are so many characters (past and present) that it gets a little tangled at times. Perhaps this is by design. Even Joey Smallwood makes a cameo appearance! Blanche is married to a man from the Island too, so there are in-laws to deal with as well as family members. There are children conceived out of wedlock, and in the present, children of those children. Complexities! Conceivably all of that is undertaken to create strong characters that may reappear if Ms. Walsh is moved to create a sequel or a series. I would certainly be interested in reading more stories about a female RCMP officer in the 1970’s in Newfoundland. A good start to a series, if there is to be one.
Alice Walsh writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She studied early childhood education, has an MA in English, and has worked as a preschool teacher and creative writing instructor. Her juvenile novel, Pomiuk: Prince of the North (Beach Holme), won the Ann Connor Brimer Award. Her picture book A Change of Heart (Nimbus) was shortlisted for the 2017 — 18 Hackmatack Award for Non-fiction. Her most recent novel is Last Lullaby, also published by Vagrant Press. Alice grew up in Newfoundland and currently lives in Nova Scotia.
- Publisher : Nimbus Publishing Limited (Aug. 31 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 232 pages
- ISBN-10 : 177108975X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771089753
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