Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mystery Book Review: False Harbor by Michael Donnelly

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of False Harbor by Michael Donnelly. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.False Harbor by Michael Donnelly

False Harbor by Michael Donnelly
An Egret Van Gerpin Mystery

Windstorm Creative (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1-59092-129-1 (1590921291)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59092-129-6 (9781590921296)
Publication Date: October 2006
List Price: $15.99

Synopsis (from the publisher): A cryptic symbol on a block of marble …

Anton Gropius understands. The malicious vandal who ravaged his sculptures is not finished. About to unveil his culminating creation, two decades in the making, Gropius must first expose his tormentor.

Reclusive Gropius Stuns World ...

Friday Harbor journalist, Egret Van Gerpin, has the headline written even before intruding on the sculptor’s private island. By kayak, in a tempest. The cantankerous Gropius recruits Egret’s help to save his work from those he's invited to his sanctuary. A dark bargain, as she becomes the last bulwark against a murderous compulsion storming the sculptor's false harbor.

Review: Michael Donnelly introduces journalist Egret Van Gerpin in the outstanding mystery novel, False Harbor, set in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State.

Egret arrives, uninvited and unwelcome, on the private island retreat of famed sculptor and recluse Anton Gropius to interview him for an article. Rough seas prevent her from departing, stranding her on the island with Anton's family who have gathered to celebrate his 70th birthday. Anton is planning a surprise for his family: the unveiling of a series of sculptures on which he has been working since someone destroyed a collection 21 years earlier at a similar event. Tormented by the idea that someone may try to do the same now, he asks Egret to stay and observe since many of the same people who were at the event years ago are again on the island for his birthday celebration. When a close associate of Anton's is found dead at the bottom of a ravine, Egret believes it wasn't an accident and sets out to identify the culprit ... and possibly solve a 21-year-old mystery.

It's a rare pleasure to read such a polished debut mystery. The island setting is a perfect location for the story, and the characters are interesting and well developed. The plot is a bit formulaic in places, but this minor fault is more than made up for by the accomplished prose. Consider this passage, as Egret is walking along a trail on the island pondering her reason for being there: "... the path sucked the anxiety from my legs, slowing me, starving the future and past to nourish the present, making a gift of itself. I fell into a new rhythm, letting the earth push me along and feeling wealthy at owning it for the moment, my only responsibility being to do it no harm ...".

It isn't clear if False Harbor is the start of a series featuring Egret Van Gerpin or simply a stand-alone mystery as the book is subtitled "A San Juan Island Mystery". But this complex character deserves another outing. Seek out False Harbor; it's one of the year's best mysteries.

Special thanks to Michael Donnelly for providing a copy of False Harbor for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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