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In the opening scene, Kitty Clark, a young poet and college professor, has come to Nantucket to view a total eclipse of the sun, something she’s always wanted to experience. She’s nervous about potentially encountering the love of her life, a novelist who jilted her just a year ago and who now lives on Nantucket with his new bride. In the bizarre but gripping opening sequence, the tension builds and Kitty loses her grip as the moon blocks the sun. When the eclipse is over, she’s standing over the corpse of Mrs. Novelist with a bloody knife in her hand.
How the events of the really strange but extremely well written and atmospheric opening chapter are eventually explained makes the book intriguing, if not particularly believable. Suffice it to say that everything is not as it seems.
Kitty's defense lawyer is another oddball academic. Homer Kelly is a portly, clumsy, middle-aged former Boston Police detective and lawyer. Now a scholar of 19th century American literature, Homer happens to be on Nantucket doing research for a dissertation on “the men who sailed with Melville” and takes on Kitty's seemingly open-and-shut case.
Homer and his wife Mary, a librarian and now also a Harvard scholar, are the protagonists of this extensive series of mysteries by Jane Langton, of which “Dark Nantucket Noon” (kudos for the seriously great title) is the second. The early entries date back to the 1970s (this one was first published 1975) and I’d classify them in both the “regional” and “academic/literary” subgenres. Homer and Mary’s usual stomping ground is the Lexington-Concord-Cambridge axis of the Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson et al.) and, oh yes, don't forget Harvard.
This side trip to Nantucket maintains the staunch Old New England flavor of the series. The descriptions of the island’s land and seascapes and of its “old” families are vivid, if somewhat florid; Langton’s writing is very good but, at least for my tastes, a bit self-consciously literary. It’s probably appropriate here, however, since much of the descriptive writing is filtered through Kitty’s point of view and she is, after all, a poet.
If you like academic and/or literary murder mysteries (and can do without the forensic bells and whistles that we’ve come to expect thanks to CSI: City Name Here), you might really enjoy this unusual series. Langton’s strength is her characters' psychology and the often ambiguous motivations driving some of their admittedly bizarre behaviors. There are several despicable characters in this book as well as a couple of potentially lovable ones, but it’s not all black vs. white, and the ending is not completely HEA (that’s “happily-ever-after,” for those of you who don’t read reviews of romance books).
Narrator Derek Perkins is easy to listen to. Although he sounds British, he does a decent job with New England dialect. All in all, a good, fairly short, change-of-pace and thought-provoking read for the fans of classic mystery minus the hard-core gore.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
Only One Irritating Issue... I could totally have done without the author taking the Lord's name in vain so often. I'm no holier-than-thou, but really that's the Only profanity he Ever used. It was mind boggling. I'm OK with four letter words here & there, if necessary. But this was like he was doing it, like a poke in the eye, for no good reason. Quite irritating.
Has Dark Nantucket Noon turned you off from other books in this genre?
Has totally turned me off this author.
Was Dark Nantucket Noon worth the listening time?
I bought it because it was about Nantucket, and a murder mystery. The story line was good, it did keep me guessing. I loved all the references to places & people of Nantucket, if it hadn't been for that, I would have probably not finished the book.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful