Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Death in Vineyard Waters by Philip R. Craig (#2 - 1991)

originally published as The Woman Who Walked Into the Sea

About the author: Philip R. Craig (1933 –2007) was a writer known for his Martha's Vineyard mysteries. He was born in Santa Monica and raised on a cattle ranch near Durango, Colorado. In 1951 he attended Boston University intending to become a minister, and got a degree in 1957. He taught English and Journalism at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts from 1962 to 1965, and at Wheelock College in Boston until 1999, at which point he retired to become a full-time writer. (Wikipedia)

Major Characters:
  • Dr. Marjorie Summerharp, who walked into the water
  • Dr. John Skye, professor at Weststock College
  • Jen and Jill Skye, John’s twin teen daughters
  • Dr. Ian McGregor, who ‘collects women as honey collects insects’. 
  • Dr. Helen Barstone
  • Dr. Bill Hooperman
  • Tristan Cooper, caretaker of mystical stones
  • Hans and Marie Van Dam, owners of Sanctuary
  • J. W. Jackson, ex-Boston cop
  • Zeolinda "Zee" Madieras, J.W.’s girlfriend
Locale: Martha’s Vineyard, island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Synopsis: Ex-cop J. W. Jackson, retired after an injury, is now a year-round resident of Martha’s Vineyard. He meets up with a collection of academics, centered around aging Marjorie Summerharp and her protégé, young Ian McGregor. They are collaborating on an article about a purported new work of Shakespeare which has been found; which they posit is genuine. Summerharp goes for her usual early morning swim and does not return, until her body is caught up in a fishing net. Ian McGregor seeks J.W.’s help in finding if there was foul play, perhaps from someone in the tight-knit Shakespearean academic community, who could be threatened by their work. This alliance proves to be troublesome, as J.W.’s girlfriend, Zee, now takes up with Ian.

Besides the academics, others include the Van Dams, who operate a semi-religious retreat called Sanctuary, on land leased from Tristan Cooper. There are rumors of illicit happenings at Sanctuary. Cooper serves as caretaker of ancient stones on his property, which he maintains have sacred/astrological significance. 


Craig obviously knows Martha's Vineyard. His character of J.W. strikes me as a male version of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone: both are ex-cop private eyes, living a simple and solitary life. I will be seeking out the other titles of the series. I was saddened to find Craig has passed away. The writing is warm and real. The repartee with the twins is amusing and serves as a relief to the drama.

The ancient stones story line is interesting, and the stones described are similar to those found in Mystery Hill in New Hampshire.

A map of Martha’s Vineyard would have been helpful to the reader, perhaps it was included in the original hardcover version. I did find one in his Vineyard Enigma.

A couple of peeves: Craig uses the terms ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ interchangeably, which they are not: A thesis is generally written in  attaining a master’s degree, while a dissertation is a more complex form written in attaining a doctorate. Second, he repeatedly uses the term ‘final draft’, which is an oxymoron. A draft is, by definition, a preliminary version of a document and cannot be a final version.

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