Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Linda Greenlaw is an interesting person. I loved her autobiographical “The Lobster Chronicles” (2003). She is on my secret list of “come backers” (people who succeed out in the world and then return to where they grew up to make a life there).
Since returning, she has written more, including fiction. Shiver Hitch is the third in a series of mysteries set in down east Maine, which she knows so well.
In this story, Jane Bunker puts on her insurance investigator’s hat to document a fire on Acadia Island. It develops into arson and one of the homeowners is found burned in the rubble. Switching hats to part time deputy, she investigates the tangled story.
The story is rife with local color, the life and characters of the Maine coast. I assume that this is based on deep experience, though I have to say that the charm is lost on me. The town folks are both too cute and too realistically irritating to be fun to read about. Greenlaw being Greenlaw, there are a lot of boat rides and lobsters play a big role.
Greenlaw’s style features a lot of first person monologue, revealing Bunker’s thinking as she (rather ineptly) unravels the mystery. She also muses on family and neighbors and other everyday things. This device let’s Greenlaw develop Bunker’s character and I think reflects Greenlaw’s own feelings about life in Maine.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this way to telling the story. For one thing, Bunker tends to be of two minds about many things, especially people. Greenlaw tries to show how she forms initial impressions, and then changes them as she learns more. I’m pretty sure this reflects the author’s own approach to the world, but it can be hard work to slog through all this back and forth.
I also didn’t particularly appreciate the sloppy police work. Setting aside the cavalier attitude about search and arrests, Jane Bunker is a terrible investigator. She leaps to conclusions, neglects basic logic, goes off on her own, and acts on the shallowest stereotypes about people. (Yes, Bunker both collects too much of the wrong evidence, and not enough of the right evidence.) Only the solid work of other police and a lot of luck prevent disaster.
One interesting theme is that cell phone coverage is really spotty down East. This creates opportunities for dramatic tension and danger which simply don’t exist in more urban settings. It’s a sign of the times that not being able to call for help is an exotic experience. (Though I don’t really grok why the police don’t use radios to supplement the iffy commercial phones.)
I consider Linda Greenlaw to be one of my dispersed tribe of come backers, and I really like a lot of her writing. But I sorry to say that her fiction appeals to me very much.
- Linda Greenlaw, Shiver Hitch, New York, Minotaur Books, 2017.
Sunday Book Reviews