Friday, May 20, 2016

Borrowing Death by Cathy Pegau

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 17, 2016

Suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody is bracing herself for her first winter in the frontier town of Cordova in the Alaska Territory. But the chilling murder of a local store owner is what really makes her blood run cold... After three months in Cordova, Charlotte is getting accustomed to frontier life. She is filing articles for the local paper--including a provocative editorial against Prohibition--and enjoying a reunion with her brother Michael, the town doctor and coroner. Michael's services are soon called upon when a fire claims the life of hardware store owner Lyle Fiske. A frontier firebug is suspected of arson, but when Michael determines Fiske was stabbed before his store was set ablaze, the town of Cordova has another murder to solve. Her journalist's curiosity whetted, Charlotte begins to sort through the smoldering ruins of Lyle Fiske's life, only to discover any number of people who might have wanted him dead. As the days grow shorter, Charlotte's investigation turns increasingly complex. She may be distant from the trappings of civilization, but untangling the motives for murder will require plumbing the very depths of Charlotte's investigative acumen...

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Cathy Pegau’s Murder on the Last Frontier blew me away when I read it last year. The author’s tone and the scope of her story left a lasting impression on my imagination so it should come as no surprise that I jumped a mile high with glee when I received a copy of book two of the Charlotte Brody Mystery series. I shamelessly bumped it to the top of my TBR and jumped in with all the enthusiasm of kid let loose in candy store. 

The first few chapters took me right back to Pegau’s earlier work which was perfect as the sequel picked up where its predecessor left off. Cordova hasn’t changed much and Charlotte’s progressive ideals are still ruffling the feathers of the frontier town’s most esteemed conservatives. I reveled in the delightful atmosphere Pegau creates on the very edge of civilization, but that’s as far as my appreciation went. 

I find a lot of merit in Charlotte’s character, but something I liked about book one is how she happened to find herself in the midst of a murder investigation despite her personal desire to disappear and blend in. This go round she’s actively pursuing the perpetrator in blatant defiance of Deputy Marshal James Eddington and the shift didn’t sit well with me and I found myself frequently annoyed that she seemed to believe her ‘almost’ relationship with the deputy entitles her to special treatment and insider information about his work. 

Speaking of Mr. Eddington, I’m not ashamed to say that I lost all respect for the man. Ignoring the fact that Cordova’s primary law enforcer seem to spend most of his time letting Charlotte do his job, I flat out refuse to condone his pursuing a woman under false presence. His reasoning is absolutely shameful, but the fact that Charlotte spends the novel making excuses for her ‘honest’ and ‘forthright’ suitor sent her tumbling from a paradigm of feminine strength to an emotionally weak and intensely insecure mess.

The fact that Charlotte’s personal life eclipsed the mystery didn’t help matters. I was intensely appreciative of the hesitancy and restraint exhibited in book one of the series, but the emphasis placed on their growing affection in Borrowing Death annoyed me. I liked the mystery and the layers Pegau built into it, but I couldn’t help feeling it played second fiddle to Charlotte’s love life. 

I enjoyed many members of the supporting cast and found a lot of merit in Henry, Adam, Bridget, Caroline, and Rebecca. Camille’s storyline seemed awkward to me, I’m still not sure why Pegau included it as it didn’t seem necessary and served only to reiterate experiences established in Murder on the Last Frontier, but what do I know right? 

Borrowing Death has its moments, but I can’t say it lived up to my expectations and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing the series when Murder on Location is released next year.

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Every time they chatted, there was another exciting lecture Kit had attended, or some rally or march. It sent a pang of homesickness through Charlotte, but at the same time she was happy to have the opportunity to get her life together in the quiet remoteness of Alaska. Well, relatively quiet, if you didn’t count the dead bodies.
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