Let’s get this out of the way: Linda Greenlaw’s new novel in her Jane Bunker mystery series, “Shiver Hitch,” traffics heavily in clichés about Maine life. Every Down East stereotype ever given voice by somebody “from away” can be found here. But Greenlaw isn’t from away – she runs her own lobster boat operation off of Isle au Haut – and the thing about clichés is that they usually become clichés because they’re true.

The tendency of mysteries and crime procedurals in recent times is to push at the boundaries of the genre, with writers throwing in nonstop surprise twists, supernatural elements, unreliable narrators or enough research to write a doctoral thesis. Not Greenlaw – she delivers a straightforward, by-the-numbers summer-beach-read whodunnit.

Intrepid marine insurance claims investigator Jane Bunker – who at this point should just be given full detective status, given her record of solving crimes – is still trying to adjust to the cold Maine winters, having moved to Green Haven two books ago. In a previous career, she’d worked as a homicide detective in Miami, disarming the criminal element and trying to halt illegal drug trafficking. Moving to Maine was to be a fresh start, a more peaceful life.

Fortunately for readers, Bunker gets a lot more than routine insurance claims investigations. This time around, she’s tasked with investigating a house fire on the fictional Acadia Island. This itself presents a new challenge – Acadia, we learn, is where she was born. Her family left the state when she was very young, and she’s heard stories about her relatives that leave her wary about reconnecting.

Responsibility trumps reticence, and Bunker catches a boat over to the island. The house fire seems to be little more than that, until she discovers a body in the rubble. Even then, her first impression is that it was an accident, but when diesel fuel is found on the site – and the house only had wood-burning facilities – it becomes clear there’s more going on.

At this point, things become convoluted, both for Bunker and for the reader.

We learn that she has a brother, Wally, with Down Syndrome, who has been living in Florida. He’s lost the health care funding the state provides for assisted living and so will be moving to Maine. Bunker has been living with her landlords, an elderly couple who run a lobster-themed gift shop and love to lob proverbs and idioms at each other. Where Wally will live, who will provide for his needs, and how Bunker’s life will be affected occupy a good part of her thinking as she prepares for his arrival.

Another complication involves a pair of young men who may or may not be transporting large quantities of illegal drugs, a great deal of digression regarding the various effects and impacts of winter weather in the Northeast, and character building for Bunker’s character by having her internal monologue lay out in great detail her opinions on everything from technology, to diner employee habits, to the pros and cons of grits versus home-fried potatoes.

Which isn’t to say that the central mystery is abandoned. Bunker meets the caretakers of the house that burned, Joan and Clark Proctor, and learns that the woman who burned in the fire – a Midge Kohl – had stirred up resentful feelings on the island with a lobster-processing factory. The social cache of the Kohls had plummeted after they hired ex-convicts from away to staff the factory, sending property values down and driving fearful residents away.

If that seems like insufficient reason to make a murder look like an accidental death, rest assured that the plot thickens, with the Proctors’ daughter being a near-militant protester of everything the Kohls stand for. There’s also the matter of all those ex-convicts around, and the thriving business in drug trafficking that may or may not be connected to lobster shipping. Greenlaw throws a lot of red herrings into a plot that on the surface is convoluted but at the end does not have an especially surprising resolution. That, along with too many easy Maine stereotypes, limits what could otherwise be that enjoyable beach read for people here and “from away.”

Matt Tiffany is a mental health counselor and writer whose work has appeared in the Star Tribune, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Kansas City Star, Barnes & Noble Book Review and many other publications. He has always lived in Maine.

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