I took this book out of the library twice previously this year, and had to return it for one reason or another. But the third time was a charm for Phoebe Taylor Atwood and me, because The Cape Cod Mystery, the first of her Asey Mayo series, wound up being my favorite book for this year’s Vintage Mystery Challenge, hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block.
Author Dale Sanborn takes a cottage in Cape Cod to escape the summer heat and work on his latest sensational novel. But he can’t escape the many people who are furious that he’s used thinly veiled versions of their own lives to people his books. Sanborn turns up dead hours after he runs over wealthy Bill Porter’s beloved dog – and the only clue seems to be a can of sardines, a type the local dry goods store stocks especially for Porter, making him the prime suspect. The sleepy little seaside town doesn’t even have a jail (can you imagine when the Cape was so remote?), so the local sheriff puts poor Porter in the stocks (the actual stocks left over from the Pilgrims, no less). Porter puts his life in the hands of the man he trusts most in the world: Asey Mayo, a former sailor with a long and probably jaded past. Mayo sets out to find the real killer in a weekend to avoid Bill winding up in a big time Massachusetts prison.
The murder represents a good mystery, but Mayo is what makes the book great. At first he appears to be just an ordinary old handyman for a large estate. But Atwood quickly reveals a man with a near-encyclopedic memory and a veritable Rolodex of personal acquaintances from all walks of life who are ready to help him solve the mystery. He’s totally smart without being a bit flamboyant – kind of an anti-Poirot. His dialogue is written in dialect, so you can really get a feel for his strong New England accent, which I absolutely loved, because it doesn’t seem condescending – just spot on. Reading it really did make me think of those great accents you hear Down East in Maine, where I used to spend my summers.
The best thing about joining this year’s Vintage Mystery Challenge was pushing myself to read seven different female authors. I found a whole new set of writers to seek out in addition to Atwood, including Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. So thanks a million Bev for hosting. I’m already working on my own “Vicious Vacations” list for 2012!