Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mystery Book Review: The Fisher Boy by Stephen Anable

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Fisher Boy by Stephen Anable. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Fisher Boy by Stephen AnableBuy from Amazon.com

The Fisher Boy by
 A Mark Winslow Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-480-5 (1590584805)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-480-4 (9781590584804)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Spiraling from the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown has long been a place of freedom, escape, diversity, and risk. A gay resort, an art colony, and a working fishing port, it is at once gritty and hedonistic, beautiful and complex.

comic Mark Winslow arrives with his troupe of improv actors ready to break into the Provincetown club circuit. But the town and the region—seared by drought and caught in the culture war—are anything but peaceful this summer. Does the tall ship in the harbor bear an unusually large number of Scandinavian tourists? If not, who are the blond and ragged people insisting they are associated with it?

Then a public fight makes Mark the prime suspect in the grisly butchering of a Boston blueblood. Mark believes his choice is simple: find the killer or be charged with the crime.

Amid the clam shacks and craft shops, art galleries and nude beaches, undercurrents are pulling at the surface of normality, like riptides beneath seemingly calm water. Could the disappearance of a famous painter 80 years in the past—and the story of his masterpiece, The Fisher Boy—somehow lie at the center of the whirlpool of evil threatening to extinguish Mark’s life?

Review: Stephen Anable introduces part-time comic, sometime amateur sleuth Mark Winslow in The Fisher Boy, a mystery set at one of the centers of gay culture in the east coast, Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Mark arrives in Provincetown just before Memorial Day hoping to make a name for himself and his comedy improv troupe during the summer season by subtly (or, if that doesn't work, explicitly) using his prep school connections in the city. But this year, there are more than the year-round residents and summer tourists milling about; Christian fundamentalists have set up shop and are publicly denouncing the large gay community, and a strange group of blonde street people are shoplifting trinkets from the local stores. Late one night when Mark stumbles across the body of one of his former classmates, his throat slashed and his chest stabbed, he's unsure what to do. He had just had a very public falling out with him and is afraid of being accused of the crime. Fleeing the scene, he's determined to find the real killer before someone frames him for the murder.

On the surface, there should be a lot going for The Fisher Boy, but it fails on so many levels it's hard to know which excessive and ridiculous plot point pushes it over the edge. For starters, there's far too much going on. The plot is so convoluted and includes so many soap opera clichés  that it exceeds all reasonable bounds of credulity. Between natural disasters such as raging brush fires and hurricanes, to personal agonies such as incest (of a sort) and questions of parentage, to secret cults and lost artist colonies and much, much, so much more, there's nothing too excessive or preposterous to be included.

The irony here is that buried deep within the superficial and artificial nature of The Fisher Boy are nuggets of a credible and intriguing mystery. The characters and setting are, for the most part, well drawn and interesting. But it's as if the author came up with an captivating story surrounding a fictional artist and his painting, then didn't trust his instincts in developing it, writing instead a novel that teases the reader with its potential intellect and wit but delivers instead the worst of insipid crime fiction. It is rare that a book starts with such high expectations and ends with such low results. The Fisher Boy is disappointing from first to last chapter.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of The Fisher Boy for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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