In Print : Murder close to home
"A Deadly Vineyard," by Glenn Ickler. SterlingHouse Publishing, Inc., Pemberton Mysteries, August, 2009, $14.95.
At the start of Glenn Ickler's mystery novel, "A Deadly Vineyard," seventh in the Mitch and Al series, a group of couples visiting from Minnesota arrives at the Oak Bluffs summer cottage of Uncle Walter for a two-week vacation. They immediately realize that things aren't quite as they should be. For one thing, where's Uncle Walter? The former editor of The Daily Dispatch seems to be missing.
Dave had tried to call Uncle Walt while we were on the ferry, but got shuffled to his voicemail. So we dragged our bags (thank heaven for luggage with wheels) through the green expanse of Ocean Park and along a bumpy blacktop street until we reached the porch where we now were standing.
Dave knocked again, pounding with the side of his fist. Maybe Uncle Walt was hard of hearing.
"He knows we're coming, but he hasn't answered my e-mails or returned a phone call for the last week," Dave said. "All I can think of is that he's probably out working on another story. You'd never know the man's retired, he keeps so busy all the time."
Next door, a thin, gray-haired man wearing only shorts and sandals straightened up from weeding his flower bed and walked toward us. "If you're lookin' for Walt, he ain't there," the man said. "Ain't nobody seen him since they found that guy's body about a week ago."
Dave turned toward the neighbor. "Body?" he asked. "What guy's body?"
Walt's absence, unnerving to his guests, is only one of many surprises that confront the group. There is also a missing ship, and the murder of Wade Waters, the treasure hunter searching Nantucket Sound, who Uncle Walt just wrote an article about. And there is also the unexplained disappearance of a treasure map created by the late Mr. Waters.
Since the three men on the trip are employed by The Daily Dispatch - Mitch, a writer, Al, a photographer, and Uncle Walt's nephew, Dave, a cartoonist, - they all have personal ties to the mysterious disappearance of Uncle Walt and a special interest in Mr. Waters's murder. Their Island visit now becomes a working vacation as they keep The Dispatch informed of the events.
For more than 40 years, Mr. Ickler worked for newspapers, - as a reporter, editorial writer, columnist, and editor in both Minnesota, his home, and Massachusetts. His knowledge of the Island is apparent, as he and his wife have owned a vacation home in the Campground for over 20 years. Mr. Ickler's other books in the Mitch and Al Series include "One Death Too Many," "Camping on Deadly Grounds," and "Stage Fright." In each, he liberally uses the names of popular Island destinations such as Linda Jean's Restaurant, Ocean Park, and the Chappy Beach Club.
The plot of "Deadly Vineyard" proves unpredictable, as demonstrated when Mitch's cat is abducted from the cottage and held for ransom until the treasure map can be produced. But the narrative appears contrived at times, and it is interspersed with awkward sexual innuendos.
Mitch, Al, and their friends learn that Uncle Walt has been hiding on Chappaquiddick. He is in possession of the treasure map and doesn't want to be confronted by whoever killed Wade Waters. There are numerous suspects - even Uncle Walt himself who recently had interviewed the treasure hunter and is hiding the treasure map everyone is so eager to obtain.
Throughout their stay on the Vineyard, the visitors are constantly having close calls and run-ins with the Oak Bluffs Police Department as they struggle to solve Mr. Walters's homicide. In particular, they often encounter Edgartown detective Manny Gouveia, who two of the vacationers are acquainted with from a previous visit to the Island.
Throughout the book Mitch dwells on his relationship with Martha Todd, a lawyer working in Cape Verde. Even so, he is continually being tempted by a television star named Rhonda Fairchild whom he met at Lucy Vincent Beach. But all is not fun, as the sexual references take on an almost crude tone and become redundant.
Still the book is not without humor and should appeal to those who know the Vineyard and enjoy seeing it become an element of the story.
"A Deadly Vineyard" can be purchased at Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books.
Julia Sadowski, a senior at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, is an editor of The High School View.