The Bends

3 Mins read

bends300Written by Leah Devlin –– This current-day police procedural is the third in a series that takes place in and around the picturesque village of Woods Hole, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Big water – Nantucket Sound, Cape Cod Bay, Buzzards Bay, the Atlantic – is never far from the minds of local residents. One way or another, most of them make their living off it either directly or by serving the tourists it draws. The irony that young Detective Bill Bleach, pale as his name suggests, is prone to violent seasickness is not lost on him. Unfortunately, corpses produce the same effect.

Devlin effectively conjures up the Woods Hole environment and the preoccupations of several principal characters: Nobel laureates Lindsey Nolan and Sara Kauni, who are inventing a new dive helmet, and marine biologist Jessie McCabe (protagonist of Devlin’s previous book, Aegir’s Curse). But it’s Nolan’s adopted daughter, Maggie May, who takes the lead. She, too, is an accomplished diver and a student at the nearby Newbury College of Art, who uses underwater inspiration for her painting and drawing.

When two murders at the college baffle the police, a small group of students is at the top of the list of suspects, and Maggie May is chief among them. Nevertheless, Detective Bleach is seriously attracted to the chain-smoking, brittle young woman. His partner begins to doubt his objectivity, and Maggie May to doubt his intentions.

Devlin’s characterisation of the art college – the faculty politics, the student life, the manipulations and rivalries- is quite believable. Less so the architectural design of the place, built in the 1970s, with thick interior stone walls. In fact, these walls are so thick they allow a secret passage down the middle, and slits in the walls (apparently invisible to the users of the various studios and offices) allow every room to be spied upon. No-one knows about this building feature except the architect who designed it, Edward Gripp. That’s a bit of a stretch.

As a wealthy benefactor of the college and donor of the campus buildings, Gripp keeps a small office there, which allows him access to his ‘Labyrinth’. He particularly enjoys spying on two married faculty members carrying on a torrid affair. But someone knows his sneaky little secret, and he is the first murder victim, killed in his own lair. Really, you’re not sorry to see him go!

As the plot unfolds, you learn more about Maggie May’s past. She met Nolan when they were roommates in a substance abuse rehab center, when Maggie May was 13 and Nolan decades older. Devlin’s development of Maggie May as a young woman determined to stay sober, who faithfully attends her Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and in times of stress turns to the psychological supports they provide, makes her an interesting, unique character.

Her past history is a little more checkered than you may at first realise, and she keeps it a secret from the other students, even her roommate and occasional dive partner Lily. Lily is the precious daughter of a fierce mother, determined that her daughter succeed in every endeavor, a person whom college administrators and faculty understandably avoid as much as possible. In other words, she’s one of those delicious characters you love to hate.

Detective Bleach isn’t quite the bumbler he might appear, and he and his new female partner are a good pair, becoming more at ease with each other as the story proceeds. They want to solve the murders not only before another one occurs, but also before the FBI agent brought in can bigfoot their investigation. Bleach desperately wants to clear Maggie May, and protect her too, since it appears to him that she may be the killer’s next victim. Meanwhile, the FBI agent is convinced she’s the killer.

The book could use further editing to resolve some distracting grammar and usage problems. Devlin writes in a straightforward, unembellished style, and there’s more plot (physical events) than story (emotional journey) in this novel. However, it moves along briskly, with interesting characters, a well-created setting, and a satisfying surprise at the end.

Penmore Press

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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