While waiting for my new Kindle to arrive, I sat there and stared at the stack of real books sitting on my night table. They’ve been there a while, as I’ve read mostly ebooks in the past seven months. But, with my late and lamented Kindle Parnassus out of commission, I had – well, take your pick: “I had no choice” or “I had the opportunity” – to bring down my mountain of to-be-reads a little. But nothing clicked. Finally, I picked up a J.W. Jackson mystery I hadn’t read before.
It’s been a while since I dipped into this series. I’ve always enjoyed the writing, the characters and the relationships between them, the setting; Martha’s Vineyard is a world unto itself, and it likes it that way, and it’s fun to vicariously experience the insider’s point of view while on the hunt for a bad guy. Since it has been some time, I don’t know if this book – the third in the series – is different from the others, or if it’s a matter of my tastes having changed, but this series entry and I did not hit it off terribly well.
Jefferson Jackson, Our first-person Hero, is still entertaining … but it’s a bit more as if he is “on” full-time trying to be entertaining. He has hardly a spoken line in the book that isn’t a quip, and a good percentage of the inside-his-head stuff is quippy as well. It gets a little old. Every conversation he has with every single other character (except perhaps Bonzo, the damaged young man whose friendship with J.W. redeems the latter quite a lot) is flippant and breezy. Every single one, whether it’s with his girlfriend or the police chief or the Padishah of Sarofim. Even in the most harrowing situations there is wise being cracked. And some of it, with, particularly, Helga Johanson (the female second-in-command of the security company to which J.W. is briefly attached) is kind of horrifying.
“Here you have me at your mercy in the master bedroom and you want to leave? What kind of seductress are you, anyway?”
The last line is both Johanson’s response and my own. The two of them are in the master bedroom because that is where the safe is located, from which a very important and valuable emerald necklace has gone missing. The book is twenty years old, published 1992. I don’t think mores were so very different twenty years ago, were they? Or is this part of why sexual harassment laws came into being? Because J.W. thinks he’s being utterly charming and amusing and lightly flirtatious (and not too serious with the latter, because, to paraphrase Hoban Washburne, his girlfriend is a beautiful woman who can severely injure him with her pinky). I hoped Johanson would continue to respond through the story with escalating versions of “My God!” – but of course a handful of pages later there is every indication that she’s flattered by his heavy-handed attentions. Or something. There is more than a shading of the dreaded “every one of the opposite sex wants the main character” to this book; being as it is set in the first person, this leads to the question of whether J.W. is really a babe magnet or just has severe delusions of magnetism. Either way, it isn’t pretty.
There is very much a patronizing “there, there, little lady” tone to the whole book. The book opens with a near-disaster, as a cigarette boat comes within about a foot of running over the dinghy in which J.W. is out fishing with his lady love, Zeolinda (Zee); they end up swamped and swimming. The cigarette boat turns out to have been borrowed by visiting royalty, the Pasishah of Sarofim, who took the wheel at an inopportune time and let it get away from him, and when the two are pulled dripping up on deck, Zee reacts by decking (literally) the man who was steering. She doesn’t know he’s royalty, and wouldn’t care if she did; she also doesn’t know that one of the other men aboard is his security chief, General Nagy, and that Jeff stepped between her and the gun he pulled.
The tone is very casual, which I suppose is appropriate if the first-person narrative is viewed as an excerpt from a journal or a tap into Jackson’s brain or something of the sort. Still, constantly seeing “zooks” for “zucchinis” and “solar dryer” for, I assume, “clothesline” wears thin. Even the constant references to the “Bad Bunny Bunch”, being the rabbits who keep trying to raid J.W.’s garden, is a bit much when they are hardly simply referred to as “rabbits”.
Even with all this I do still like J.W. He reminds me of someone I know, a bit old-fashioned in several ways: gentlemanly, yet chauvinistic. I like the way he judges men by their handshake; I accept the way he judges women by their looks (without liking it). I was fine with the way he keeps trying to protect the womenfolk – quite frankly, there is legitimate danger and turning down assistance is, often, just stupid. Zee at least is an idiot to keep denying she needs help. That was frustrating: there is an active threat against Zee and J.W.; J.W. suggests that, at one point, she stay with him and, at another point, that she stay with her aunt; Zee – stubborn to the point of stupidity – refuses and refuses and refuses, insisting that she wants to be home. Alone. It drove me a little crazy. Well, tough, moron – you’re in danger, and so for that matter is your boyfriend, and if you’re together the benefits are manifold: he will know you’re safe, and if you’re so damn tough, then if danger does arise you both can help each other. A huge point is made that Zee can look after her own damn self – and indeed, that incident I cited above shows she can use her fists. However, in that incident she might have been shot dead a minute later if it wasn’t for Jeff. It just aggravated me no end for her to keep insisting she would be fine doing as she wanted. No, you might not be, dear. Just stop being selfish, take the man’s worry into account, be a sensible person and go away with your boyfriend or at least let him ease his own terrors by sticking by him.
As for the mystery the whole thing is supposed to hinge on … as far as was possible, I was pretty sure I knew what happened. There are two necklaces, the real emeralds and the paste copies. The real emeralds basically disappeared from a locked room. You do the math. As for the details, they’re impossible for a reader to suss out, because there’s a vital component which isn’t revealed until a handful of pages before the end. As with many cozy mysteries, the mystery is less the point than the cozy.
And this is a cozy in a somewhat prototypical series of cozies. The series bucks some of the traditions: it’s written by a man with a male main character – but the (now) amateur detective working the occasional bout of detection in among his hobbies (cooking, gardening, and mostly fishing) is classic. Quaint, village-like, and somewhat unusual location? Check. The alarming frequency with which the hero and his circle encounter theft, murder, and kidnapping is also a hallmark of the subgenre. (Later in the series, Jackson’s “Delish!” cooking, featured so often in the books, is taken to its (for cozies) logical conclusion: the books begin to feature recipes. This one has no recipes, as such, but I think Jeff’s techniques could be duplicated; I know I managed a scallop dish from one of the other books.)
Kind of great quote:
“I couldn’t care less who stole the emeralds or why or what the consequences may be for the relations between Sarofim and the United States. In fact, like a lot of people, I’m inclined to think that people who wear their jewels in public places more or less deserve to have them stolen. I never weep when I hear of somebody’s million-dollar bracelet being lifted from her apartment in Palm Springs.
- They Are Meant to Be Shared (thewritersremedy.com)
- Curious about Cozies by Christine Husom (secondwindpub.wordpress.com)