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Cape Perdido

September 28, 2009

Cape Perdido by Marcia Muller
published by Mysterious Press July 19, 2005

Cape Perdido was once home to a thriving lumber industry. Since the owner of the timber mill, Timothy McNear, closed the business, much of the economy has dissolved. However, the Perdido River is home to a wildlife refuge and a picturesque recreational area, so the locals survive on the tourist trade. Now this precious ecosystem, along with their livelihood, is threatened. “Water grabbers” from an out-of-state corporation plan to drain water from the river and sell it in Southern California.

Jessie Domingo, an ecologist from New York City, flies in, eager to prove herself. She meets one of her heroes, environmentalist Joseph Openshaw, who has returned to his native town. Steph Pace, the local restaurant owner, was once Joseph’s friend and lover. Along with Timothy McNear, now retired from the lumber trade, Joseph and Steph share a terrible secret. After a sniper’s bullet disrupts the water grabbers’ plans, long-hidden secrets begin to unravel.

The point of view alternates among these four characters. These transitions are handled quite deftly, and the story flows smoothly. However, I didn’t find the mystery to be as substantial or as suspenseful as those found in Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series. It was a good read, but after reading the author’s other work, it was a bit disappointing. On the other hand, I did enjoy her skillful writing, and the environmental activism, which provides the frame on which the plot is woven, makes the story more interesting. The author also has a strong eye for detail, and at moments, I got vivid glimpses of the beauty of the river and the California coast.

I recommend this as a relatively light and fun read for mystery aficionados.


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