Dead Man’s Island

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

After eight mysteries featuring Annie Lawrance and Max Darling, Carolyn G. Hart introduces a new detective—retired journalist turned thriller writer Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, better known as Henrie O. Although it is another briskly paced Hart novel in the Christie tradition, gone with the Darlings is the lightness of tone, enthusiastic embrace of danger, and gentle satire of their adventures. Widowed Henrie O is decades older than the Darlings and more world-weary than ebullient; since DEAD MAN’S ISLAND is very much her book (she is narrator as well as central character), it progresses in a businesslike manner, with strength of will and protection of family becoming focal motifs complementing the detection plot.

Media mogul Chase Prescott, having gathered family, personal staff, and business associates on his lush private island off the Carolina coast, also invites erstwhile lover Henrie O, supposedly to obtain material for an authorized biography but actually to determine who is trying to kill him. The group includes Prescott’s son, his young third wife, his stepson from a prior marriage, the sister of his second wife, his personal secretary, his general counsel, his potential successor as chief executive, and his domestic help. Utilizing her experienced reporter’s skills, Henrie O learns that anyone in the party could have perpetrated an earlier murder attempt against Prescott: they all either fear, hate, or resent him; everyone would profit from his death; and he faces possible bankruptcy. Further, with sibling rivalries, jealousy, and a storm that isolates the island, the familiar ingredients of a traditional (or so-called cozy) whodunit are present. Indeed, the novel has clear echoes of TEN LITTLE INDIANS, the well-known 1939 tale by Christie.

Such parallels, however, are common to the genre; what matters is that DEAD MAN’S ISLAND has substantive character development, a compellingly realistic description of a hurricane to provide a stirring climax, and an unexpected resolution (worthy of O. Henry as well as Agatha Christie) which leads Henrie O to decide that since the “world had its story,” she will “let it be” and bury the truth with the ghost of her former lover.