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Friday, August 9, 2013

Brush with Death: A Gray Whale Inn Mystery By Karen MacInerney

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Cynthia Chow

Even though it's the December slow season for Cranberry Island's Gray Whale Inn, innkeeper Natalie Barnes has her hands full as her normally placid niece Gwen prepares for her first real art gallery show, and several visiting artists descend on the island off the coast of Maine in preparation for the mainland production. While her fashion-challenged patron encourages Gwen to paint in the more profitable oils instead of her beloved watercolors, her mentor Fernand LaChaise contends with a rival artist whose competing artists' retreat could cut into his business.

Fernand's welcoming party to honor hot new artist, Nina Torrone, also comes with complications as she was a contemporary of Fernand's, but whose artwork now sells for nearly half a million dollars. So when Natalie and Gwen discover Fernand with his wrists slashed, just after the party, few question that it was the result of a suicide out of despair of his relative lack of success.

Gwen refuses to believe that her mentor would have killed himself while he was still making plans for her success, so she encourages Natalie to look into who might have been able to stage Fernand's suicide. Conveniently, two of the suspects just happen to be guests at the Gray Whale– the boyfriend Fernand just included in his will and the sister who disowned him when he came out of the closet. When a creepy doll lands on Natalie's doorstep, only the ability to cook and care for her guests can distract her from the threat that has come to the place she has come to call home.

Image source: Midnight Ink

Investigating is a way for Natalie to distract herself from the personal crises that could destroy her future. Her attorney has absconded with her mortgage payments placing the inn at risk of foreclosure, while Gwen's now uncertain future may force her to leave the island and the aunt who has grown to love her like a daughter. Newly engaged to woodworking artist and deputy sheriff, John Quinton, Natalie must also decide if she truly is ready to give up her independence, a decision not made easier when John's mother arrives to stay for several weeks, bringing with her a strict diet and even more rigid personality.

It's been almost three years since MacInerney's last Gray Whale Inn Mystery, a long time to wait for the author's delicious descriptions of food and Maine's Cranberry Island. The wait is worthwhile as the author brings back her cast of eccentric islanders who gossip at the speed of light, but support one another through their challenges and tragedies. The lifestyle of artists is also explored, as the pursuit and need to follow their muses often comes with the sacrifice of security and income. Those who are able to succeed can be regarded with jealousy by those who fail, making it a lifestyle unusually rife with hostility and violence.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

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