Islands are magical places, no doubt about it. Whether you live on one, as I do, vacation on one, or read about them, islands stir some deep core of fantasy. Island Justice is a satisfying island book. Elizabeth Winthrop understands and better still, makes us understand the feeling of a close-knit community that knows everyone else's business and personal life, that pulls together when it needs to.
When Maggie Hammond's godmother, Nan, dies and leaves her island home to Maggie, a sophisticated world traveler, a furniture conservator who works with museums in London, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Prague, Maggie sets about selling the cluttered Victorian house. The task of getting the house ready for sale takes longer than she expects, and Maggie gets caught up in off-season island life. The body of an island man, missing for several days, washes up on her beach. Islanders rally around his daughter and give Maggie, who found the body, the support she needs. "You're entitled to fall apart," she is told. She learns about a serious problem in one of the families. Should she remain silent, closing her eyes the way the islanders have been doing? Should she call in authorities from the mainland? What role should she play?In Island Justice, Winthrop packs onto her small island (12 miles long, three miles wide) adventure, romance, mystery, and humor. We learn a bit about furniture conservation, a bit about training Vishlas, hunting dogs. When Randy Baker spots a school of fish off the beach: "Ã”Hallelujah,' he shouted, and got on the radio with a single call. He knew he was breaking the cardinal rule of the island. The radio was to be used only for emergencies. But the fishermen had come up with a simple code. . . . Within twenty minutes, there were twelve fishermen lining the beach, calling news of lures and catches to one another." Kasha, Maggie's Siberian husky, is hurt badly and must get to the mainland. The word goes out, "Get down to the ferry will you, and try to convince Dan to hold that boat." Besides being a good yarn, the story has the feel of an island. We hear the bell buoy, the fog horn, the gulls, we struggle along with Maggie to back a car onto the ferry. I was sorry when I finished this wonderful, rich book. Now that I've discovered Elizabeth Winthrop, I am off to my favorite island bookstore to order her previous novel, In My Mother's House.
Reviewed by Cynthia Riggs.