“Brush with Death” is a mystery set on Cranberry Island, Maine, just off from Mt. Desert Island. The book is peopled with artists – accomplished artists, aspiring artists, wannabe artists, and wannabe patrons of artists.

Natalie Barnes, who owns the Gray Whale Inn, and whose niece Gwen from California is staying with her, narrates the story. Gwen is a young aspiring artist on the cusp of having her first gallery show on the mainland. The plot turns around Fernand LaChaise, Gwen’s mentor and something of an accomplished artist, who is found murdered following a party he hosts for Nina Torrone. Torrone is a bit of a mystery herself. Her paintings are currently the rage in New York City. She has unexpectedly arrived for a stay on the island. She always wears dark glasses and is never allowed by her super-controlling agent to speak for herself.

The pivotal murder, however, comes nearly a fourth of the way through the book. Prior to that Natalie does a lot of baking while brooding over the notification that the inn is surprisingly being foreclosed on. She also worries about the retired vacuum cleaner mogul hosting her niece’s show who is trying to get Gwen to change her style. For extra measure, Natalie is agitated by a wealthy resident who wants to change the island’s quaint character by developing it into another Kennebunkport. Besides worrying, Natalie also engages in a lot of conversation with friends and neighbors about baking, knitting and the mysterious Nina Torrone.

“Brush with Death” is written by part-time Maine resident Karen MacInerney. The book is the fifth in the Gray Whale Inn mystery series. While the plot for “Brush with Death” is inventive enough and her prose solid, MacInerney takes an excessively long time to generate suspense. What suspense she works up she often dulls with a penchant to insert irrelevant parenthetical clauses that dissipate tension. Her characters also have a propensity to indulge in discursive conversation that wanders far from the mark of adding critical information or details to advance the plot.

She does succeed in making Natalie a sympathetic character. Natalie is a good friend, a caring aunt and does come to have compassion for her unexpected guest and future mother-in-law. She also develops deepened empathy for her murdered friend Fernand and his secret life.

But Natalie’s deductive logic in solving the mystery is a little too pat. She could also benefit from a little richer character complexity to make her more compelling. And Karen MacInerney could benefit from a more diligent editor to help her exploit her inventive plot.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer, ghostwriter and writing coach whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. He can be reached at www.thewritinggroup.com.

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