The heart, style, and intended readership of J.S. Borthwick's latest mystery romp involving Sarah Deane--a teaching fellow and doctoral candidate at Bowmouth College in Maine--and her physician husband, Alex McKenzie, is crystallized with this little exchange:
"I think," said Julia, standing up and gathering her handbag to her breast, "that we can give Deedee and Richard a miss. Who in God's name wants to hear all the ghastly details about people being chopped up with cutlasses and clinging to rafts?" Sarah and Alex are sailing home from Europe with Sarah's elderly but feisty Aunt Julia, and the supposed subject of their conversation is whether to attend a shipboard lecture on pirates. But what Borthwick is really doing is placing her readers in familiar territory--that comfortable country where Dick Francis and Ellis Peters meet Agatha Christie for tea.
Alex smiled down at Julia. "You'd rather read Dick Francis describing maimed horses and mutilated jockeys? Or," he added with a side glance at Sarah, who was a fan of Brother Cadfael and his felonious associates in 13th-century Shrewsbury, "entertain yourself with poisoned yeomen and decapitated monks?"
In this country, anyone who gets on board a brand new ocean liner (in this case, the Queen Victoria) knows that the shipboard activities will include murder, as well as shuffleboard, and that Sarah and Alex will clear things up long before the ship docks in New York. One reader's déjà vu is another's homage, and Borthwick writes with verve and grace--as witnessed by the popularity of past titles such as The Bridled Groom, The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites, Dolly Is Dead, The Down East Murders, Dude on Arrival, The Garden Plot, and The Student Body. --Dick Adler