By: Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ
Mary Anna Evans’s seventh Faye Longchamp mystery is
told to the backdrop of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil platform
blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. While perhaps not the strongest
entry in this laudable series, Plunder provides the same high quality
character studies and archaeological verisimilitude that this reader has
come to expect from the pen of Ms. Evans.
The stage for this tale is set in the backwaters of
Plaquemines Parish in the delta country south of New Orleans—a land whose
history is rich in the lore of pirates, runaway slaves, and hidden
treasure. Faye’s fledgling cultural resources management firm is a small
business by anyone’s definition: its staff consists of her, her husband Joe
Wolf Mantooth, and part-time technician and babysitter to Faye and Joe’s
toddler, Michael. With the aid of as-needed sub-contractors, Faye and Joe
undertake a fairly standard, albeit geographically wide-ranging survey of
archaeological sites as part of a wider environmental impact study. The
scope of the project does an abrupt about-face when news of the Deepwater
Horizon catastrophe hits and they are engaged to quickly assess and set
benchmarks for identified sites that very likely will be impacted by the
giant oil slick that is approaching the Gulf Coast.
Faye and Joe run their CRM operation from a houseboat
moored at Lafitte Marina, next to a houseboat occupied by a colorful, if not
downright eccentric duo: the aged Voodoo mambo (priestess) Miranda
Landreneau and her teenaged set-grand daughter Amande. Abandoned by her
mother and a father she never knew, Amande is a tall, beautiful young woman,
who when not taking high school AP classes via the computer, plies the
islands and bayous of Barataria Bay in search of archaeological artifacts.
The joyousness of Amande’s carefree existence and the
bonding of Faye and Amande as two kindred spirits discover each other turns
dark very quickly when Hebert Demeray, grand mere Miranda’s dissolute
son is found floating beside the houseboat, brutally murdered. At the same
time, a clutch of low-life relatives descend upon Miranda and Amande and
their houseboat when another death in the family—Amande’s absentee
mother—kicks off an unseemly scramble for a paltry inheritance (a few oil
stocks and a deserted tide-washed island in Barataria Bay) that for the most
part, ought to be Amande’s.
The drunken buffoonery and infidelities of the extended
clan lose their clownishness when grand mere Miranda is savagely
slain and found, like her son Hebert, floating in the marina’s waters.
While madly trying to keep on top of the demands of the CRM contract, Faye
realizes that the maniac loose in the bayou presents a very real danger to
Amande. Could the killer possibly be slaying close kin to gain legal claim
to the seemingly insignificant inheritance of the Landreneau clan? Or is
the bequest perhaps more valuable than it would appear? And what about the
handsome young treasure-hunting underwater archaeologist that appears to be
as interested in “Amande’s island” in the bay as he is in Amande’s nubile
young body? As the gloom surrounding the Landreneau family deepens, the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill moves inexorably closer to the Gulf shore,
providing this Southern gothic tale with an apt metaphor.
Mary Anna Evans weaves a satisfying narrative tapestry
as she once again captures the compassion and generosity that is so central
to the characters of Faye and Joe as they battle to protect Amande from the
evil that seems to surround her. Woven into this tapestry is the looming
nightmare that is the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the struggles of
Faye’s new business venture. All of the elements are deftly entwined by an
increasingly masterful storyteller.
Three trowels for Plunder.
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