Murder in Half Moon Bay by Nancy Jill Thames caught my attention by its title and cover. A Kindle promo sealed the deal and I eagerly started reading this book starring Jillian Bradley, a fifty something lady who writes a horticultural or gardening column and talks to her dog. More importantly, her dog talks back to her!
The story begins with Jillian summoning the ladies of her ‘garden club’, and the reader assumes it is some inner group of friends. The ladies are mentioned in passing. One of them is a world traveler. They are all going to attend some convention at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. There are many details which are not evident, beginning with the timeline of the book, the age of the protagonist and the location or setting of the story. I have mentioned in my earlier reviews how the lack of this kind of information throws the reader off. It’s as if the author has set us on a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt and we are supposed to ferret out these details in addition to reading the story. What a bonus for us readers!
As we read along, there are vague mentions to the 9/11 attacks, so maybe the story is in the near future of 2001. One clue demystified. Then there is another mention of Jillian’s being a widow and her husband having lost his life in the Vietnam war. Again, some rough math and some guesswork makes Jillian Bradley a 50 something lady. Another Clue demystified. A while later, there is a mention of the Pacific Ocean, so we realize the grand hotel is possibly on the West coast of America. A while later, there is a mention of California or the Bay area, and much later in the book, almost after 60%, there is some mention of Monterey, which kind of helps the reader – only one who has been to Monterey, or has a strong idea of the geography of California, mind you – place the whole story. Third clue demystified. It would have been much easier for the reader if these points were made early on in a few sentences to establish the background.
Jillian Bradley is very fond of her little doggie which is fine. She talks to the dog, which is also ok. But she also assumes what the dog’s answer is, and the reader has to patiently hear out this quasi conversation.
The story itself – there is a gardening convention in a grand hotel. The word gardening and horticulture is used interchangeably. Initial descriptions make you think about a cosy conference with just a few characters who all form part of the story. But later there is mention of over 200 people attending a ball that is part of the conference. One of the convention organizers is found dead on the rocks. The murder investigation begins. The police chief very cordially allows Jillian Bradley to aid in the investigation. Why? Probably just for kicks! She delegates tasks to her friends – things like finding out someone’s credit history, finding flaws in their accounts, following people etc. It is not clear how or why these ladies happen to have this expertise. Jillian Bradley takes everything in stride, drinking copious amounts of coffee and eating the scrumptious food set out by the Ritz Carlton. Only surprise, this is mostly comprised of finger sandwiches, fruit, cakes, tarts etc., irrespective of the meal or time of day. I wonder why the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay does not serve any hearty or gourmet meals.
The best advice while reading this book is to not get too hung up on the characters, and not to question why. The mystery itself is intriguing and gets more complex as you read on. Even though the murder doesn’t take place until you are more than 20% into the book, there are many diverse elements that will keep the reader guessing. If you can imagine an ageless swash buckling lady going hand to hand with law enforcement, and unearthing the most unlikely clues, you will love reading Murder in Half Moon Bay.
Even if Jillian Bradley did not grow on me, the underlying mystery in Murder in Half Moon Bay will give mystery fans their money’s worth.