Mark Mills: Amagansett

Reviewed by DAVID LARSEN

Here's a meat and potatoes murder mystery, the kind of reading that reminds you just how satisfying meat and potatoes can be.

Conrad Labarde is a fisherman from a long line of fishermen, living out his ancient Basque traditions in a new homeland: Amagansett, Long Island, New York. In 1947, the conversion of the island from old-style fishing community to playground for wealthy Manhattanites is just gathering steam.

One morning, Conrad's catch-of-the-day turns out to include the drowned body of a beautiful young woman. Misadventure? Suicide? Murder? Has one of Conrad's neighbours, resentful of city dwellers' encroachments on the local fisheries, taken the kind of action which will see all the locals tarred by association?

As Conrad and Tom Hollis, a local cop, set out to answer these questions, it slowly becomes apparent that each man has a hidden agenda. Flashbacks, skilfully embedded in the increasingly compulsive main storyline, develop these characters into complex, sympathetic heroes, fighting a probably doomed battle against the tide of history.

The book's one flaw is a weakness for phrases like "the tide of history". Mark Mills is an experienced screenwriter, but this is his first novel, and you get a sense that he's slightly too used to letting the camera do his talking: his dialogue, characterisation and plotting are all impressive, but his narrative voice occasionally lapses into stagey portentousnous.

In a weaker book, this would be a fatal flaw. Here it's a minor annoyance only. A great read.

Fourth Estate $34.99

* David Larsen is an Auckland reviewer.

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