Originally created 06/27/04

Sea of mystery surrounds Martha's Vineyard in two new whodunits



Bright blue waters, miles of beaches, and quaint towns and villages make Martha's Vineyard a paradise for residents and for the boatloads of vacationers who visit the Massachusetts island.

Such a tranquil and idyllic spot would seem to be an unlikely setting for murder - except in two new whodunits.

The two books, by island residents Philip R. Craig and Cynthia Riggs, are among the latest hardcover novels of mystery and suspense, which include books by Janet Evanovich, James Lee Burke, Edna Buchanan and Dean Koontz.

In "Murder at a Vineyard Mansion" (Scribner), Craig offers his 14th book about islander J.W. Jackson, a former Boston police officer and part-time private eye. This time out, Jackson investigates the murder of a night watchman who was thrown off a cliff at the start of the summer season.

Summer is ending in "Jack in the Pulpit" (Thomas Dunne), Riggs' fourth book about the exploits of 92-year-old police deputy Victoria Trumbull. This case involves a series of suspicious deaths among some of the island's church members, all of whom had received gifts of food left anonymously at their homes.

In a way, food leads to trouble for Stephanie Plum in "Ten Big Ones" (St. Martin's), the 11th in Evanovich's series about the 30-ish bounty hunter from Trenton, N.J. As Stephanie and her colleague Lula stand outside a deli pondering their lunch options, a masked holdup man emerges from the store. The bounty hunter becomes the hunted after the fleeing robber's mask slips just long enough for Stephanie to see his face.

Billy Bob Holland, former Texas Ranger, stars in his fourth book, Burke's "In the Moon of Red Ponies" (Simon & Schuster). Holland has settled in Missoula, Mont., where he has hung out his attorney's shingle. His first client is a local American Indian activist charged with murder and with stealing files from a biotech company suspected of having sold biological weapons to Iraq in the 1980s.

A 1992 crime resurfaces in "Cold Case Squad" (Simon & Schuster), Buchanan's first in a planned series featuring four Miami police detectives who apply forensics to investigate long-unsolved crimes. A cold case heats up when a woman tells the officers that she has been spotting her former husband all over town - even though he officially died 12 years ago, burned to death in an accidental explosion.

Other unexplained sights appear in California, as a small town comes under siege by a mysterious, unearthly force in Koontz's "The Taking" (Bantam). The eerie day begins with a hard, steady, luminous rain and a strange scent in the air. As matters worsen - electronic communications fail, and odd sounds and mysterious lights appear - a young couple and their neighbors band together for survival.

Retired spies re-emerge in "The Bourne Legacy" (St. Martin's) by Eric van Lustbader, as former CIA covert agent Jason Bourne (a character created by Robert Ludlum) is framed for the murders of two of his associates; and in "Old Boys" (Overlook), Charles McCarry's story of a former agent who asks colleagues for help when he suspects that the death of his cousin, also a former agent, has been faked.

Crime is nothing to smile about in "Killer Smile" arperCollins), Lisa Scottoline's story about an attorney whose life is threatened after she takes a case involving a suspicious suicide at an Italian-American internment camp during World War II; nor in "Secret Smile" (Warner), Nicci French's tale of a London woman who has trouble convincing her family that her sister's seemingly upstanding boyfriend is downright evil.

In "Monday Mourning" (Scribner), Kathy Reichs' seventh in the series, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan investigates after the basement of a Montreal pizzeria yields three female skeletons.

Three female victims of a male con artist join forces to try to bring him to justice but discover that his misdeeds go far beyond their suspicions in Bill Pronzini's "The Alias Man" (Walker).

In "Death of a Thousand Cuts" (Forge) by Barbara D'Amato, the founder of a now-defunct school for autistic children is discovered murdered as former staff and patients attend a 15-year reunion.

At a 20-year reunion held at a closed mental hospital, a former patient recalls the brutal and still-unsolved murder of one of the institution's nurses in "The Madman's Tale" (Ballantine) by John Katzenbach.

"The Judgment of Caesar" (St. Martin's), Steven Saylor's 10th mystery set in ancient Rome, finds series regular Gordianus the Finder trying to find a way to prove that his son is innocent of murder.

The murder of a Supreme Court justice occupies husband-and-wife FBI agents Savich and Sherlock in their ninth book, "Blow Out" (Putnam) by Catherine Coulter.

A U.S. Navy warship in the Persian Gulf is the target of a planned attack by al-Qaida in "The Command" (St. Martin's) by David Poyer.

In Gerry Boyle's "Home Body" (Berkley), the eighth book in the series, journalist Jack McMorrow of rural Maine investigates the disappearance of a troubled teenager who left behind a cryptic message.