Philip R. Craig's Death In Vineyard Waters is the second in a series of murder mystery novels that take place on Martha's Vineyard. It is a cozy story with some wit, some atmosphere and a rather dull, though, 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. Aside from fishing and hanging out with his girlfriend Zee, a pretty nurse, Jackson seems to continually find himself involved in solving obscure homicides. In the first book in the Martha's Vineyard Mysteryseries, A Beautiful Place to Die, a boat blew up, and though the police dubbed it an accident, Jackson polished off his investigative skills and set out to prove it was murder.
In this installment Jackson and Zee are invited to a neighbor's cocktail party. The place is flooded with college professors -- academia galore. Majorie Summerharp and her esteemed colleague, the hunky Ian McGreggor, are the center of attention and the purpose behind the party. They believe they have discovered an unpublished Shakespearean play; before Summerharp retires, she wants to publish a paper on the discovery with McGreggor's help.
At the party it becomes clearly evident that Summerharp is a bitter, mean and outspoken old woman. She has run-ins with former lovers, colleagues and anyone and everyone else at the party. Though Jackson is there to stop one particularly irate guest from assaulting Summerharp, he is utterly helpless to prevent Zee from becoming intrigued, then charmed, and finally smitten with McGreggor.
When Summerharp drowns during her ritual morning swim, once again the local police write the death off as an accident or possible suicide. However, it is McGreggor — the man who stole Jackson's girl — who hires Jackson to dig deeper because he wants to be sure the old coot wasn't murdered.
Plenty of people disliked and even hated Summerhar — but enough to kill the woman? Jackson has to find out. His search leads him to the doorsteps of the people who attended the cocktail party, which leads him into some strange, even occult-like situations.
Death in Vineyard Waters has all the makings of a good cozy mystery, except one thing: a reason to keep reading. The book is slow, seriously lacking tension. Jackson is so relaxed and laid-back that he doesn't even get upset when McGreggor steals away Zee. In both previous books I've read by Craig, there is never a sense of urgency. Fishing is the priority (that and the over-descriptive ways in which Jackson chooses to prepare each meal). Story and character-definition in this novel are sub-par when compared to the first Vineyard book.