Harker’s debut mystery explores shocking murders in a small coastal town.
Binnacle Bay Police Chief Pat Fitzlaff knows something is wrong when he receives a call about Gus Murdoch and his wife, Sasha—who happens to be Pat’s ex-girlfriend. When he arrives at their home on the beach, he finds Gus’ lifeless body but no trace of Sasha. The one living creature he does find is an enormous shaggy dog no one even knew the Murdochs had. The dog, Murphy, becomes his companion as he investigates the mystery of Gus’ death and Sasha’s disappearance. Pat relies on the help of his friend Dylan Hunter, along with his very attractive sister Claire, but he can’t shake the suspicion that they might be hiding something from him. As Pat delves further into the case, he must contend with the relentless rumor mill of Binnacle Bay, which isn’t making his job any easier; when his boss learns of his past relationship with Sasha, he threatens to take Pat off the case. Despite these obstacles, Pat perseveres, eventually uncovering a tangled web of stolen cash, a gang boss’s mistress and desperate fugitives. Some readers may feel that Harker’s prose at times sounds quaint or old-fashioned. For example, the usually abbreviated words “missus” and “mister” are spelled out here. Some phrases—“There was about it something that was at once bleak and yet ever so hopeful,” “he had a serenely oriental face,” etc.—often seem idiosyncratic. However, these moments are offset by instances of subtle humor or charming imagery, as when Pat says, “[M]y mom used to tell me those little wind devils were lost spirits finding their way to heaven.” They help achieve a sense of balance that should keep readers engaged. Harker skillfully develops the atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest coastal town, and while the ending isn’t exactly a shocker, her lively pacing combines with the individual quirks of her characters to offer a realistic portrayal of a small-town community.
Vivid setting and animated characters create a satisfying mystery.