In Print

Dead in Vineyard Sand by Philip R. Craig

Craig mystery makes great beach read

By Mary-Jean Miner - August 10, 2006

"Dead in Vineyard Sand," by Philip R. Craig. Scribner, 2006. $ 24. 256 pages.

By now, it is pretty certain that many Islanders know Phil Craig and his character, Jefferson W. Jackson, quite well. It is equally certain that many annual visitors to the Island make a trip to their favorite bookstore each summer, searching for the latest adventures of J.W. Usually, the newest books come out each June, which makes it convenient for us all. This year, we are to be treated to two volumes from Phil Craig, the first of which is available in bookstores now.

This latest, "Dead in Vineyard Sand" is another chronological adventure which features the usual familiar (and thinly disguised, in some cases) locations and characters which we now know quite well, along with a few who are mostly newcomers or infrequent visitors. If people find a great similarity to Islanders, living or dead, it is due to their own active imaginations, as Mr. Craig creates his people from his own, which is highly active.

The current volume (number 16 in the series based on Martha's Vineyard, if my counting is correct) draws on a recent controversy (as many of the others do), which is the prospect of a new golf course on the Island. Local politics do not dominate, for which we may all be thankful, but issues are represented by colorful and vividly described personalities, none of which are local politicians. Again, we are thankful.

The plot, following Mr. Craig's usual active and convoluted thinking, is intricate and surprising. This time he has created an entire family of controversial and complicated personalities and, as the tale evolves, we learn more and more surprising details.

Throughout the story, there are the usual fishing and clamming expeditions, along with J.W. and Zee's darling children, who feature heavily in an interesting subplot. We would like to hear a bit more from little Diana, who, since learning to speak, mostly says, "Pa, I'm hungry." She's portrayed as an equal to her older brother, Joshua, but is a person of fewer words. Other recurring characters, such as Bonzo, the Skye family, the usual staff of police, both local and staties, wander through the action, as do folks with familiar-sounding names like Norton, Jernigan, and Fuller. It all makes for the usual intimate look at a pretend Vineyard situation, along with pretend Vineyard people, and it's all presented with Philip Craig's usual humor and wit.

Next course

If you are a fan of J.W.'s books, or a newcomer to the genre, here's another upcoming romp. Come this fall, Philip and Shirley Craig will be celebrating the launching of a cookbook, "Delish," published by Vineyard Stories, which features many of the tasty dishes that have been included in the more recent of the J.W. Jackson books, using locally available shellfish, fish, and whatnot. In keeping with J.W.'s personal philosophy to "beware of any recipe over four inches long," the recipes promise to be concise. "Delish" will be available in bookstores in October.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer who lives in Tisbury. She frequently writes about classical music and art for The Times.