A Vineyard Killing/Murder at a Vineyard Mansion, by Philip R. Craig

These books were just what I wanted after a stressful week: familiar characters, a much-loved place, and a mildly challenging story. Some of the mysteries I love have a powerful emotional effect; others exercise my mind with their complicated puzzles. But sometimes I only want a comfortable read.

These mysteries feature J. W. Jackson, former Boston policeman turned fisherman. Marriage to Zee motivated him to convert the fishing shack where he lived into a real home for her and their children. So he is justifiably incensed when, in the first of these books, a real estate developer from the South threatens to take it away from him. After only a few pages, I realised I'd read A Vineyard Killing before, but went ahead and read it again anyway. Donald Fox is using predatory tactics to cheat long-time Martha's Vineyard residents out of their land. When someone fires on Donald and his brother, J.W. gets involved.

J.W. is a joy to hang around with. Easy-going but unafraid to stand up for what he thinks is right, he carves his own path. I love his sometimes acerbic observations of life on the island and the various layers of its inhabitants.

In the second book, J.W. looks into two murders among the wealthiest stratum of Vineyard society. In his casual way, J.W. distinguishes between the old rich who tend their farms in worn clothes and the new rich who throw up the most ostentatious mansions they can get away with. One of these partially-constructed mansions has been vandalised and then the security guard hired in response by the owner tumbles over a cliff. To solve these crimes, J.W. has to break open the secret lives the islands most privileged residents.

Craig's descriptions of Martha's Vineyard and the lives of its permanent residents make me feel as though I too live there, as though I know the island far better than I do. I love the descriptions of fishing trips, drives around the island pursuing clues and suspects, and all the small chores J.W. undertakes at home, such as fixing dinner for his family. Each book has a few recipes in the back. They are nothing fancy, but “All delicious”.

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