Maiden Voyage


Smooth sailing as Linda Greenlaw navigatesher first murder mystery

By Robert Gillespie

Linda Greenlaw ’83 made waves with three nonfiction books about swordfishing and fish stories. Slipknot is a different kettle of critters. On her maiden voyage into fiction, Greenlaw is learning the ropes of the female detective murder mystery.

Linda Greenlaw '83
Hyperion (2007)

No high-tech science, no squads of investigators in the coastal fishing village of Green Haven, Maine—just Jane Bunker, a rookie “marine consultant” on her first assignment as an insurance investigator for Eastern Marine Safety Consultants. Convinced that the dead man found off the Green Haven wharf is a murder victim, Bunker pokes about town. Investigating in Green Haven is like sleuthing in the era of Sherlock Holmes.

Greenlaw impresses with a New Englandy crew of suspects. On board are the packing plant’s girthy owner (“even her forehead was fat”), the elderly foreman who looks as craggy as Poseidon, the gabby waitress at the local cafe, the old maids peering out the window of their hardware and variety store, the self-appointed harbormaster who’s simply simple, the handsome eligible bachelor and his disgruntled son and potbellied brother, the shrewish ex-wife, and a comic pair of old tipplers who cluck like parents over Bunker, the town’s most eligible bachelorette. Somebody wants Bunker, who is spied on, fired at, and even stood up on a date, deep-sixed.

Though light at heart, Slipknot is darkened by real-life controversy. Regulations on fishing might lead fishermen into competition to the death. A proposed wind farm would affect traditional fishing ground, forcing the packing plant to pack it in. Contentiousness, cutting across economic and social status and political ideologies, splits Green Haven families and friends. Anybody in town could turn rotten for any number of good reasons.

If those two delightful old tipplers turn out to be murderers, however, you’ll gnaw your oilskin hat in disbelief. Like the querulous harbormaster—“Clyde was sputtering like an outboard motor with water in the gas”—most residents of Green Haven are generally too darned entertaining to be murderers.

Cal appeared ill at ease in the presence of a female he assumed was here to question him regarding the body. From what he said, it seemed that his boss feared a wrongful-death suit, since the body had washed up below her dock. Again, Cal hadn’t asked. So I would not confess that I was actually here to do a routine safety examination and survey of the fish plant and surrounding properties for insurance purposes. Coincidentally, this body had washed ashore. I’ve always been lucky that way.

—From Slipknot by Linda Greenlaw ’83

Greenlaw fans will love the drama of a storm at sea, the crew hauling aboard a codfish net while battling huge winds and waves. Fidgety landlubbers, remembering that mysteries involve netting whoever knocked off the victim, might wish Bunker got back to shore business more quickly.

Women detectives fearlessly venture into tight spots, again and again risking bodily harm to satisfy their curiosity, and Bunker, sprightly, intrepid, and indomitable, is cut from that same tough sailcloth. The author needn’t have padded Bunker’s job résumé with a previous “position as chief detective in Dade County.” Her zeal for snooping and her job as marine inspector are all the authority she needs to wade into salty places, boats, and people who make their living off the water. It’s success in her first case that earns the sleuth her detective stripes.

Better yet, she’ll bring job experience to more Jane Bunker “knot” mysteries that you can bet will be sailing our way from Down East.

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