Philip R. Craig's A Beautiful Place to Die is the first in his series of murder mystery novels that take place on Martha's Vineyard. It is a cozy story with wit, atmosphere and a well-crafted plot.
Jeff "J.W." Jackson was a police officer until he took a bullet and retired. He settled down in a modest home on Martha's Vineyard with little more than a fishing rod. At the right time of year, fishing for bluefish is what his life is all about. That is until one morning he meets Zee, a pretty nurse fishing his spot — and not fishing it very well. After some basic casting lessons, the two begin to hit it off.
When they witness a boat explode off the shore they become closer because of the traumatic experience. Jackson knew the people on board: Jim, who died in the accident, used to fish with him; Billy, who he knew as well, was also thrown into the ocean but survived.
Billy's sister contacts Jackson after learning that he is a retired policeman. Since the locals are writing the whole thing off as an accident, she wants him to look into it; she is certain someone purposely blew up the boat. After three days of looking for answers, just before he is about to give up his investigation, Jackson discovers a link between Jim and Billy that could lean nicely toward motive.
Reading A Beautiful Place to Die makes me want to visit the Vineyard. I can clearly see the beauty that Craig describes, can almost smell the salt water from the ocean and taste the delicacy of finely prepared bluefish. However, with the exception of Jackson and Zee, the characters seem stiff and dry. Excluding fifty pages near the end of the book where the action, tension and suspense pick up, the story is slow and easy, like an episode of Murder She Wrote — which is not a bad thing. It is, after all, a cozy mystery, and perfect for reading while snuggled in a blanket on a cold rainy night.