New Maine Times Book Review: 'Matinicus'

Posted Wednesday, August 29, 2012 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: 'Matinicus'


by Darcy Scott

Turtle Pond Press, 2012

264 pages, $14.95

ISBN 978-1-936447-23-7

reviewed by William D. Bushnell

Matinicus Island off the coast of Maine is well known for its fiercely independent and clannish community of lobstermen and their families. It is also well known that the locals there do not encourage tourist visits. If Matinicus islanders ever wanted to see a book that would discourage any visits by outsiders, this book is it.
"Matinicus," by Kittery author Darcy Scott, is the first book in a planned trilogy of island mysteries (the next book will be titled "Reese's Leap"). This is actually her second novel, however, following "Hunter Huntress" in 2010.
Scott lives on her sailboat, is an experienced blue-water sailor, and a very talented writer.  She also has a keen sense of humor, an eye for carefully woven plots, a knack for snappy, funny dialogue, and a gift for creating vividly colorful, convincing characters. Put all that together, and she is a very entertaining storyteller.
This is a superb mystery, but it does paint an ugly and unwelcoming picture of Matinicus and its residents. In 2005 college professor and botanist Gil Hodges (that’s right, he is named after the famous first baseman of the 1955 Dodgers baseball team), comes to Matinicus for the summer on the feeble excuse to study trees and orchids. Gil is an unrepentent boozer and shameless philanderer, a conquerer of coeds, who is really just hiding out from a crazy ex-lover.
As an outsider, smooth-talking Gil is barely tolerated by the islanders as he stumbles into an insular world of alcohol, drugs, smuggling, a vicious lobster war, steamy and angry sex, and then murder. Between frequent drinking bouts and acrobatic sex, Gil lives in a haunted house, reading an 1829 diary that tells of shipwreck, madness, and worse.  The creepy ghostly feelings he gets would be enough to sober up anyone, except Gil. “I feel trapped in a time warp of death and deceit,” he worries.
Tension is high with the conflict of the lobster war, and when one suspicious death after another is declared an accident, the islanders don’t believe it. Accusations and mistrust run rampant, with the locals pointing fingers at each other, and even Gil is considered a suspect. There are no cops, lawyers, judges, or courts on Matinicus; instead, the islanders take care of things themselves, in what they proudly call “island justice.” And their justice is usually final, with no pesky loose ends to interfere with their fishing and feuding.
In his more lucid moments, Gil finally makes a connection that links a suspect and motive together, but he must take some dangerous risks to make a case of murder. Too bad he probably won’t be around to see the end of it, especially if he is wrong.
Add an island full of hard-drinking, pot-smoking, fist-fighting lobstermen and sternmen, bitter family feuds, long-held grudges, simmering thoughts of revenge and mayhem, desperate teenage angst, futile dreams, an unhappy ghost, a diet of tube steaks and Rolling Rock beer, and a diabolical killer, and Scott has a tightly wrapped, exciting, and suspenseful mystery hit.
Matinicus residents would likely enjoy this book, too, especially Gil’s explanation that the word Matinicus is an Indian word meaning “land of the rusted automobile.”  And they would probably be happy if they never saw another botanist or tourist. “Island justice” seems to work just fine.
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