A history-mystery novel wrapped in romance and love of place

The Popping Cork Murder, by Mitch Grant. Create Space. 430 pages. Trade paperback $16.00.

Last fall, Mitch Grant came out with his first “St. James City, Florida Mystery.” Though the book is billed as a novel, and there is no better label for it, it really combines several categories of writing into something at once unique and a bit unsettling.

The most successful element is Mr. Grant’s homage to the area’s natural beauty. He also, through his surrogate narrator Jim Story, enjoys the independent spirit of the community, its relative isolation, and the friendly atmosphere of St. James City and by extension all of Pine Island, one of several intriguing barrier islands off Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast. PoppingCork_front

In elaborating on these attractions, the author goes far beyond the needs of his story line into chamber of commerce enthusiasm. Still, it is fun to follow Jim and his wife Jill, victims of topophilia, into the handful of eateries and bars that dot the tiny town (actual places). We eavesdrop on the good-natured chatting that accompanies the drinking and eating. Getting to know the routes from here to there, the dangers of boating in shallow water, the technique of popping cork fishing, and the colorful history of these islands is certainly pleasurable.

And that history is intimately connected to the murder plot, so let’s get to it. Before Jim and Jill moved to St. James City, Jim’s work friend Javiar showed an interest in the place and planned to be an early visitor. Once he arrives, he stays a week with his friends and then rents nearby for another week. Javiar is filled with questions about anything and everything, and he asks them at a frantic pace. Though he pretends to be interested in the fishing, his real interest seems to lie elsewhere.

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He learns his way around the islands, rents a boat, carouses with the locals until all hours of the night, and is seen less and less by Jim. One night, a local fishing guide visits the Story home with the bad news that he found Javiar murdered on Punta Blanca.

The mystery of who killed Javiar and why has to do with Javiar’s Spanish background and especially his particular lineage; the rumors of gold buried on coastal islands and ships at the bottom of the sea with gold treasure; pirates and politicians; and the tangled relationships among Spain, the United States, and Cuba back at the turn of the twentieth century. The lineages of several important families long established in this corner of the Florida peninsula also receive detailed attention. Indeed, even the Collier family is described, and – as the author puts it – “used fictionally.”

Jim and Jill develop a strained and limited partnership with Lieutenant Mike Collins of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, the man in charge of the investigation. They sometimes work together, sometimes independently, in tracking down possible suspects and motives. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 22, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the May 28 Fort Myers edition, and the May 29 Bonita Springs edition, click here Florida Weekly – Mitch Grant 1 and here Florida Weekly – Mitch Grant 2.

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Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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