Sunday, November 28, 2010

Unusual motive plays big in Florida Panhandle mystery

Tallahassee native Glynn Marsh Alam does something in her latest novel that's hard to do these days — she comes up with a unique motive for a seemingly benign, even sympathetic, person to kill two others.
In a culture where mystery books abound and all the plot devices seem taken, finding an unforeseeable reason for murder is a challenge Alam meets head on in "Tide Water Talisman."
Alam, the winner of the 2009 Florida Book Gold Medal award for "Moon Water Madness," has the bona fides to pull off this unique Florida Panhandle mystery, the eighth in her Luanne Fogarty series. Not only has she authored nine books as well as taught writing and literature in Los Angeles, she is a graduate of FSU and a native of the North Florida region she writes so well about in her novels.
In her "Talisman" tale, Alam collects a ragtag band of characters who have sought refuge in a fish camp community located between two rivers and a bay in the Gulf Coast area of Big Bend Florida. Most are trying to salvage what they can of their old pre-Katrina lives after fleeing the storm and the destruction of their homes and businesses.
Mingled among these Katrina refuges, an old veteran is perhaps finally finding his peace as proprietor of a junk store in the fish camp community's little collection of businesses. A fortune teller, who more or less predicts the death of a fisherman and thereby increases her clientele tenfold, and her husband seem to have no past, yet stake a claim in another small business in the camp. A determined woman is opening her own Gulf Coast seafood restaurant, with no help and maybe some hindrance from her heavy-drinking husband. A private eye, a tall, seductive stranger, and a woman operating a mystic shop of crystals, talismans and New Age merchandise, all have stories they plainly do not want to tell.
A handful of tourists, hungry for authentic Florida and fresh fish, rove about in the camp and the plot line, as do shrimpers and fishermen and their wives. And Pasquin, a Cajun backwoods wise man and rascal, whom Alam's readers will remember from past books, and sensible swamp hound Plato also frequent the fish camp world Alam creates so authentically.
Into this melange of folks, sheriff's office adjunct scuba diver and reluctant linguistics professor Luanne Fogarty and her boyfriend, sheriff's deputy Vernon Drake, test the limits of their affection when they live together in a tiny travel trailer in the camp on assignment from the sheriff. Seems that there is not one, not two, but three murders they have to solve. Living among the fish camp refugees, Luanne and Vernon share puzzlement and danger — and plenty of fresh seafood.
Having grown up among the live oak forests and cypress swamps of the Big Bend, it is no wonder Alam gets the sense of place so right — from the sinkholes and the reptilia to the cold springs and the rivers and swamps, Alam describes this world vividly and with the respect due the Gulf Coast wilderness of Florida.
A good read, with engaging characters and a strong sense of place and a genuine mystery, "Tide Water Talisman" deserves a place on your bookshelf or bedside stand. It is available locally at My Favorite Books and at the usual online sources.
  • Claire Hamner Matturro is the author of four mysteries, including "Sweetheart Deal" (William Morrow), and is a former legal writing instructor at FSU.