Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Book Review: 'Dead Down East' by Carl Schmidt

Arizona author and freelance writer Carl Schmidt has had a rich life of experiences - Denver University for degrees in mathematics and physics and Brown University as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in mathematics. He lived two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and five years in Japan teaching English, yet he elected to use Maine as the setting for his Jesse Thorpe Mysteries because he loves its rugged natural beauty and the charming idiosyncrasies of Mainers. His other published book is non-fiction – ‘A Recipe for Bliss: Kriya Yoga for a New Millennium.’ Carl has also written and recorded three musical albums. In 2001, New Falcon Press published his non-fictional book, A Recipe for Bliss: Kriya Yoga for a New Millennium.

The flavor of his writing is readily apparent in his Prologue: ‘Apologies and compliments are two remarkably effective devices for disarming adversaries in life and hecklers in bars. If you consider the socially adept people you know, you’ll see that they use these two conversational tools frequently and with ease. I remember the first time it fully dawned on me how valuable they could be. Angele and I had been dating for a couple of weeks. Our next planned event was scheduled for Saturday night. So I was a bit surprised when she arrived unexpectedly at my place on Tuesday evening. I guess she decided that there was something that couldn’t wait until the weekend. The moment she walked through the front door, I began to suspect what that “something” was. She had a gleam in her eyes that seared me from the inside of my nimble imagination right down to my insteps. I surmised that she was either ovulating, or she had a sudden urge for a tour of the Thorpe habitat. I began to mentally review the floor plan of the house. “Now, where is my bedroom?” I thought. “I know it was here this morning.” Angele relieved me of that particular anxiety by leading me right to it. She emits some kind of bedroom-seeking sonar through her vocal chords. The sound is extraordinary. I’ll try to describe it. For starters, it resembles a deep hum. Angele’s voice is naturally low and earthy. If she were a singer, she’d be a contralto. But this hum is very low-pitched, even below her normal register. I guess you could call it a sustained breathy murmur. Around here, it came to be known as the “Fugue for Two Bassoons in B Flat Minor,” or simply “The Fugue.” Whatever The Fugue is, it’s capable of finding the path of least resistance to the bedroom, and it also makes standard foreplay obsolete. The Fugue serves as a perfect bridge from what we call “everyday life” to what I call the “Island of the Floating Spirits,” which is my own personal euphemism for the afterglow when that rush of endorphins makes its way into the cerebral-spinal fluid. On that particular Tuesday evening, with a mutual anticipation of the “Island of the Floating Spirits,” The Fugue got us down the hallway, through the bedroom door, and onto my king sized bed. That’s when Angele spotted a lacy bra lying about ten feet from the foot of the bed. It was wedged along the side of the dresser, propped up against the baseboard. “What is that?” she growled. The Fugue had suddenly stopped playing. In its place was her three-word question in a totally different register. Instantly, I tried to recall the two devices that disarm adversaries and extract us from dicey social situations: apologies and compliments. Unfortunately, I was a little rattled and couldn’t think of either one, so I opted for the more standard male approach: lying.’

It is this kind of sophisticated humor that sails though this murder mystery and makes the story fly by much too quickly. The plot?‘ ‘Jesse Thorpe, a young private investigator operating out of Augusta, Maine, receives a mysterious phone call from a former client, Cynthia Dumais. She begs to be rescued from an island south of Brunswick, within a mile of where William Lavoilette, the governor of Maine, was assassinated the night before. She insists that her life is in danger, but is unwilling to provide any further information. Reluctantly, he goes to fetch her.’ Sound too simple? Just step inside this story and discover a fine bland of dry humor and stealth. Great summer read. Grady Harp. July 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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