Desert Isle Keeper
Murder on the Last Frontier
I fully admit – I’m not the biggest fan of mystery novels. When I saw that Murder on the Last Frontier was set in Alaska, I was curious. When I saw the amateur detective was a woman in 1919, I decided to give it a shot. When I finally read the blurb for the book, and saw the heroine was a suffragette and journalist? I was hooked. And while the mystery itself wasn’t that difficult to figure out, I loved the entire process.
Charlotte Brody really wasn’t planning on causing any trouble in Cordova, the small town in Alaska her brother works in as a doctor. She was planning on starting a new life, writing articles to send back to New York for the women’s newspaper. She certainly wasn’t going to get involved with a murder case within the first few days of her stay. Unfortunately, the best intentions don’t always prevail, and Charlotte hears something outside her window one evening. Early, the following morning, the body of a prostitute is found not far away. Charlotte is left with guilt over the murder, thinking that if she had just gotten up, looked outside, maybe she could have prevented it. And she is determined to come to bottom of the issue, with or without the approval of her staid brother. Or the rather handsome deputy marshall in town.
I really enjoyed this. The end. Okay, well, not quite the end, but still. It’s a historical mystery, that reads a bit like a western, since Alaska really is a sort of final frontier for America. There’s a hint of romance, a strong (and headstrong) female character, and the background of supporting characters actually feel like they are real. Each individual we meet in the town of Cordova feels like he or she has a backstory, and is the star of their own lives. I find that missing in a lot of my romance reading, and it was an absolute joy to have that here.
Even though the backdrop is a rather frigid Alaska (and we get more than one moment of sacrificing fashion to function, as Charlotte navigates the streets), the mystery itself feels like one of those cozy mysteries – there’s definitely a small town vibe to Cordova, as everyone knows everyone else. One thing I really enjoyed was that the violence here, especially the violence done against women, was highlighted in what felt like a more realistic way. Charlotte is certainly no stranger to violence – as a reporter, she has been present at suffragette rallies and interviewed women who were beaten and imprisoned.
Charlotte herself is strong-willed, and seems to possess strong ethics, both personally and professionally. There are several moments where she chooses not to share inside information, even to get further in her own investigation, or to further her journalist career at the town’s newspaper. She’s definitely a modern woman, but I felt that, overall, she didn’t seem displaced in time. Her ideas may be modern, but she’s clearly a product of her time period and her experiences. James, the potential love interest in the form of a deputy marshall, intrigues me – he’s pretty open, but seems to know where to draw the line between personal relationships and professional boundaries. He also respects Charlotte’s boundaries, which is great, since we see Michael, Charlotte’s brother, have trouble with that. He wants her to be a proper member of society, and that’s just not who she is.
Now about the mystery, I did figure out the whodunit part before Charlotte, but that is not terribly uncommon – the reader has access to all the information, after all, whereas the character frequently gets bits and pieces, and has to rely on their memory. The interesting part is watching the detective, amateur or otherwise, come to the right conclusion. And, in this story, the romantic potential was lovely. I’m more of a character-driven reader anyways, and I adore Charlotte, I like James, and even Michael, with his more old-fashioned ways, grew on me. There’s a sequel due out next year, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.