TURN ABOUT IS NOT FAIR PLAY
With this story, MacInerney brings us the third entry in her Gray Whale Inn series, following “Dead and Berried.” The action begins approximately 8 months after the conclusion of that 2nd novel.
Natalie Barnes, owner of the Gray Whale Inn, is providing accommodations and food service for a week-long retreat run by a company specializing in weight-loss techniques. When the participants arrive on the afternoon mail boat, John Quinton and Natalie go to meet them. John has four roles on the island. He is the town’s chief deputy, he is a wood sculptor, he is Natalie’s next-door neighbor and he is Natalie’s boyfriend of nearly a year. The moment the boat docks he takes on a fifth role – he is the retreat leader’s ex-boyfriend, a fact here-to-for unknown by Natalie.
From this point on, Natalie’s life, both personally and professionally, deteriorates at an exponential rate. From the moment the gorgeous and lithe Vanessa steps foot on the dock, John gravitates to her like a moth to a flame. Within 24 hours, Vanessa’s business partner, who is also a former lover, is missing and then found dead of ingested poison. Less than a day later, the police shut down Natalie’s kitchen, which threatens to put her out of business. And then it just gets worse from there.
The mystery portion of this novel is well crafted. The characters, the motives, the play-by-play descriptions leading to the climax and the murderer’s identity are paced, clearly written and realistic.
But, I feel that this author does not have the touch for writing a romantic component into a story. For instance, back in the previous book, Natalie has only been dating John for a few weeks when her ex-fiancé shows up. That storyline did not progress for very long before I was pretty irked at the unrealistic manner in which the author has Natalie respond to the machinations of her ex-fiancé. In fact, MacInerney managed to write the romantic equivalent of the college coed going down the basement stairs in a slasher movie. You can see right through it, you know that nothing good is going to come of it, and you can’t believe that the heroine doesn’t see that the words and the actions of the ex-fiancé don’t match.
Well, shampoo, rinse and repeat – only this time the aggravating storyline falls to John. At the first sight of Vanessa, it’s as if a switch is tripped. Everything seems to be about Vanessa and Natalie seems to become a mere afterthought in John’s existence. Eventually, John’s explanation is that those actions were his way of keeping a major secret that Vanessa had told him. However, he did not have knowledge of that secret when Vanessa arrived, so that story does not even come close to explaining the fact that, from the moment he sees Vanessa, John is shoulder to shoulder with her, has her feet in his lap on the sofa in the Inn’s parlor, hugs her intimately and even calls her “sweetheart,” all right in front of Natalie. Again, actions and words do not match and the make-up scene does not adequately resolve the issue. And even though that scene is clearly intended to be quite romantically dramatic, it actually comes across as forced, trite and unrealistic.
A second problem with the romantic element is that MacInerney has Natalie constantly refer to John as “my neighbor.” Yes, he does live right next door, but they have been dating for nearly a year. To have her refer to him as simply her “neighbor” rather than “John” in her internal monologues is off-putting and actually feels symptomatic of a third and nastier problem with MacInerney’s writing.
To wit, from a romantic standpoint, MacInerney has written a “clean” novel. There are no sex scenes and the kissing scenes that do exist are brief, non-detailed and essentially “sweet.” But beneath the cleanness is an underlying sense of judgment implying that sex is somehow dirty. The main characters are seemingly chaste and the only people engaged in sex are having extra-marital or clandestine affairs. In actuality, the feel goes beyond the idea that the author is trying to write a clean romance. It feels as if the author does not perceive the difference between loving passion and sensational erotica, but knows that some level of physical romance should be included in order to market the book.
I have the next book in the series in my library already, acquired at a good sale price. I will read it, but if the handling of the romantic plot does not improve substantially, it will be my last read for MacInerney.
Cover Art from Goodreads