Death in a Cold Hard Light

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Merry Folger, Nantucket police detective and daughter of police chief John Folger, is called back from her vacation with fiancee Peter Mason when the body of an apparently drowned young scalloper is found in the water. Her investigations bring forth puzzling inconsistencies concerning the character of the drowned man and whether he was involved in the drug traffic that is threatening the island. The growing evidence seems to point at Merry’s collusion in a cover-up.

Additional murders complicate the situation, as does the presence of a mysterious woman scientist who is attempting to create genetically engineered scallops that will withstand environmental threats, and who has had a past relationship of some kind with Peter Mason. Merry’s relentless pursuit of information, even when called off the case, leads her into danger. The solution is complex, believable, and satisfying.

Francine Mathews has also written three Jane Austen mysteries under the name of Stephanie Barron; the Nantucket series, imbued with precise, often humorous details of regional life, is very different. DEATH IN A COLD HARD LIGHT is a realistic exploration of small-town family roles and conflicts as well as an intriguing mystery.

The downside of this novel is that is contains so many characters, all of whom are important in some way to the plot, that some of them seem more like plot devices than individuals. Nevertheless, the main character is well drawn and sympathetic—the reader is interested in seeing what will happen to her in future episodes—and the plot is satisfying because it is unusual without straining credibility.