Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Southernmost Murder
AUTHOR: C.S. Poe
PUBLISHER: DSP Publications
LENGTH: 211 pages
RELEASE DATE: January 9, 2018
Aubrey Grant lives in the tropical paradise of Old Town, Key West, has a cute cottage, a sweet moped, and a great job managing the historical property of a former sea captain. With his soon-to-be-boyfriend, hotshot FBI agent Jun Tanaka, visiting for a little R&R, not even Aubrey’s narcolepsy can put a damper on their vacation plans.
But a skeleton in a closet of the Smith Family Historical Home throws a wrench into the works. Despite Aubrey and Jun’s attempts to enjoy some time together, the skeleton’s identity drags them into a mystery with origins over a century in the past. They uncover a tale of long-lost treasure, the pirate king it belonged to, and a modern-day murderer who will stop at nothing to find the hidden riches. If a killer on the loose isn’t enough to keep Aubrey out of the mess, it seems even the restless spirit of Captain Smith is warning him away.
The unlikely partnership of a special agent and historian may be exactly what it takes to crack this mystery wide-open and finally put an old Key West tragedy to rest. But while Aubrey tracks down the X that marks the spot, one wrong move could be his last.
The relationship between Aubrey Grant and Jun Tanaka is a long-time coming. But with Jun’s job in the FBI, which has him in foreign countries half the time; Aubrey having moved to the Florida Keys, far from where Jun could usually be found even when he was in the country; and…oh yeah…Aubrey having met Jun while dating the man’s work partner, it isn’t hard to see why it has taken them years to get to a place where their friendship/flirtation could become something more. That is all set to change when Jun takes a vacation down to the Keys for the sole reason of seeing if there is anything more to them than late-night skype calls.
Too bad no one told the skeleton in the closet that the only funny business supposed to be going on was of the bed-sheet variety. Now Aubrey has to deal with dead bodies, Jun has to deal with Aubrey playing detective, and a mysterious treasure-seeker has to deal with the pair constantly bungling his (her?) attempts at a centuries-old find of a lifetime.
This book was pretty much the next-best-thing to getting book three in the Snow & Winter series–to which this book is tangentially tied to. Not to worry if you haven’t yet read those books (I might judge you a little, though), because this book easily stands on its own; but for fans of Snow & Winter it is something to tide us over till a third book in that series can make its way out to us.
To be honest, there is just something about the way that Poe writes mysteries that works for me. Reminiscent of my favorite Josh Lanyon books, Poe constructs stories that can keep you guessing the whole way thru, pulls of twists that make total sense in hindsight, and even more importantly gives us completely compelling characters that make the story have a heart worth worrying over.
I think this story did a good job of balancing the fact that Aubrey was not a detective–so really shouldn’t be poking his nose into the whole dead-people business–with the need to have a compelling, and moving, plot. All the while making sure that he never came off as a massive idiot for constantly throwing himself into danger–danger that he is in no way prepared to handle. Having Jun be an FBI agent helped, certainly, but the secondary mystery (the one not focused on the dead bodies) was enough in Aubrey’s wheelhouse–and far enough removed from the more recent crimes–that for the most part it felt more like a treasure hunt, than a murder mystery. But the two things are tied together, so Jun and Aubrey can’t help but land themselves in hot water occasionally. Which of course made sure that things were never uninteresting.
The use of Aubrey’s narcolepsy was also very well worked into this story. Much like Sebastian Snow‘s color-blindness, Aubrey’s narcolepsy plays an understated part in the story. I like that the plot doesn’t revolve around it, but that its influence on Aubrey’s day-to-day life is certainly felt. It isn’t something new to Aubrey, and he knows exactly how to work his life around and with it, and so it becomes something that adds a unique flavor to the book, but doesn’t take over or need to be constantly pointed out to the reader.
I left this story feeling like I got pretty much everything I went in looking for. A good mystery, an engaging love story, and a couple hours spent with characters and settings that kept me glued to my kindle. I also now have a nagging desire to go back and reread the Snow & Winter books, but that might have to wait till I have a bit more free time. As for Southernmost Murder, well I can say that fans of Poe’s writing are in for a treat, and fans of pirates, treasure-hunts, and mad-dashes through late-night streets after what may or may not be an angry ghost, should get a kick out of it as well.
Read up, me hearties, yo ho!