‘Dead, White and Blue’: another murder in paradise

deadThere is a fairly reliable melodramatic kick in crime stories set in creepy old mansions or thrillers involving elaborate variations on our modern day boogeyman, the serial killer.

But, there isn’t much surprise or pathos when murder happens in a sinister setting or when the perp is a super-criminal of a sort rarely encountered in real life.

One of the reasons why Carolyn Hart’s “Death on Demand” books pack such an emotional punch is that the crimes are committed in a place we can relate to — a beautiful resort on a South Carolina island — and the line between the criminals and the victims is very thin.

What could be worse than learning a friend or neighbor was driven to kill someone you know? And that there is a horribly “rational” explanation for that crime?

Alfred Hitchcock knew that it was scarier to be suddenly attacked in a Midwestern cornfield in the noonday sun than to run into terrible trouble in an urban back alley late at night.

And Carolyn Hart knows that murder in her idyllic fictional setting of Broward’s Rock can be much more shocking and harder to fathom than a street crime in a New York City slum.

The new novel in the series “Dead, White and Blue” upholds the high standards of this marvelous series about mystery book store operator Annie Darling and her unlicensed private investigator husband Max.

Hart takes a big chance in the novel by opening with the disappearance of a rather dreadful young woman — a beautiful but B-level actress — who has wrecked marriages and alienated many of the people in Broward’s Rock by her sexually aggressive behavior.dead1

She’s not a friend of Max and Annie’s but when the distraight daughter of Shell Hurst’s current husband asks the couple to help find the missing woman, they agree to help the girl.

The more the Darlings investigate, the more they see that the headstrong outsider really had few allies in the community and more than a few people who might benefit from her death.

Hart is clearly on the side of the “good” people of Broward’s Rock — Max and Annie foremost among them — but “Dead, White and Blue” shows that a moral, law-abiding community should not tolerate the murder of even its most disreputable citizens.

As always, Hart weaves her ethical and social concerns into a beautifully constructed mystery in which all of the pieces fall perfectly into place by the final chapter, with justice being served and order restored to Broward’s Rock.

Joe Meyers