Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fogged Inn (A Maine Clambake Mystery #4)

Author:  Barbara Ross
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496700377
Kensington Publishing
320 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
February 23, 2016
Five Stars

An autumn chill has settled over Busman's Harbor, Maine, but Julia Snowden is warming up the town by offering lobster stew at the local diner.  When her landlord discovers a dead body in the walk-in refrigerator, Julia must figure out who ordered up a side of murder.

Nothing's colder than a corpse -- especially one stashed inside a sub-zero fridge.  The victim spent his last night on earth dining at the restaurant bar, so naturally Julia finds herself at the center of the ensuing investigation.  Lost in the November fog, however, is who'd want to kill the unidentified stranger -- and why.  It might have something to do with a suspicious group of retirees and a decades-old tragedy to which they're all connected.  One thing's for sure:  Julia's going to make solving this mystery her early bird special...

********

Julia Snowden lives in an apartment above the restaurant that she and her boyfriend Chris, operate for dinner.  It is just after Thanksgiving in Maine, and it gives her and Chris much-needed income to get through the off-season winter.  Her landlord Gus owns the restaurant and runs it for breakfast and lunch.  One morning she is awakened by Gus screaming up the stairs at her - telling her there's a dead body in the walk-in refrigerator.

Yes, a dead body...in the walk-in refrigerator.  It's not anyone they know, but she does recognize him as being at the restaurant the night before.  Other than that, he's a complete stranger, and no one seems to know anything about him.  Naturally, the police close the restaurant until they can investigate the crime scene.

Julia, never one to sit around and wait for things to be done in their own time, starts thinking back to the night before.  There were, besides the dead man, four older couples in the restaurant - Henry and Caroline Caswell; Phil and Deborah Bennett; Michael and Sheila Smith; and Barry and Fran Walker.  All four couples sat on opposite sides of the restaurant, and didn't speak with each other - at first.

The night was a foggy one, and Julia's childhood friend, Jamie Dawes, now a police officer, arrived and told them they couldn't leave because there had been an accident blocking the road.  So, until they were given the all clear, they managed to make small talk among themselves, mostly about the weather, but little else.

Julia soon remembers that all four couples paid, at least partly, with gift certificates for the restaurant.  When she checks them, she sees that they had an expiration date of the night they dined.  But according to Maine law, gift certificates can't have an expiration.  She intends to mention this to Lt. Jerry Binder and Tom Flynn, of the state police Major Crimes Unit in Augusta, first chance she has.  Until then, she has them in a cigar box she keeps in her apartment.  But when she goes to check, the certificates are missing, and she's convinced that they've been stolen, although Jamie thinks she may have merely misplaced them.

Rattled by the fact that someone was in her apartment and took the certificates, she vows to find out more about the couples and how they received them.  It seems the certificates were sold in a lot of five, and she knows that someone must have given them to each couple, and wants to find out who it was.  What she does learn isn't much: only that each couple received the certificate in the mail, and according to their answers, they don't know each other.

When Julia later visits Vee and Fee Snugg, sisters who run a B&B and where the deceased man was staying, she learns something new that leads her to a an old photograph at the Yacht Club.  In the photo, taken many years before when they were young, she discovers all four couples standing together - which proves that they lied to her, and they do indeed have some sort of a past.  But why would they deny knowing each other?  And why would they barely acknowledge each other in the restaurant if they did know each other?

Julia is sure that they are all hiding something, and that one of the group may have killed the as yet unidentified man.  She is determined to find out why they lied to her, and proceeds to question them all again, even after she is warned by Lt. Binder to stay away.

What Julia eventually finds out, through dogged investigation, is that not only do the four couples have a history together, but that it connects them to a tragedy which occurred decades earlier, and could have a bearing on what happened that fateful night in the restaurant.

Fogged Inn is the fourth book in the Maine Clambake series, and I found it intriguing in the fact that in solving one mystery Julia may have solved two.  Both plots were linked together in such a way that it never seemed artificial nor doubtful, making the characters involved sympathetic in the process, and a gratifying read.  For while Julia is actually trying to find the person who has been sneaking into her apartment stealing items related to the case while she sleeps, she is drawn into the old cold case that is tied to the current murder.

Along the way we find that there is more tying these people together than what is first seen; a part of their past that they have never been able to escape and has tainted their lives with a sort of sadness and guilt, even in the fact that they were able to find happiness among themselves.

The clues are all there if you look for them, but not always easy to find, and when the case is finally solved, the answers are a bit surprising and unexpected, but satisfying nonetheless.  As I have stated above, this book has an unusual plot which, unlike most cozies, leaves a sort of sadness in the story that makes it even more believable when the ending comes.  Highly recommended.



More on Barbara Ross's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/r/barbara-ross/

       

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