The Bohemian Murders
By Dianne Day
Bantam, 1997, 251 p. (paperback)
Reviewed by J. Ashley (7/98)
This is the first Fremont Jones book I've read, though it's the third in the series. I approached it neutrally--I knew the stories were about a woman who lived in early-20th-century San Francisco, and that's as far as it went.
But if this book is typical, I'm definitely going to read the others. The Bohemian Murders is set south of San Francisco in Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Fremont Jones has become a temporary lighthouse keeper. Her sometime partner Michael Archer, alias Misha Koskoff, has taken a cottage in Carmel, and has fallen in with some arty Bohemians. The story opens with Fremont spotting the body of a woman washing about in the bay.
No one comes forward to identify the woman; the papers don't even report the drowning. Later, the body itself disappears. These oddities send Fremont Jones investigating, and she recruits some interesting Bohemians from Carmel to help her. But then the Bohemians start disappearing, and Fremont, more than once, finds herself in danger.
On top of all this, a wealthy developer begins to woo Fremont, but Fremont is distracted by the changes in Michael Archer, who now has taken up with a flamboyant, beautiful writer/artist. Interlaced through the action are the manuscripts Fremont types for hire: a ghostly tale about old California and a gothic, erotic, novella.
This book refreshed me. Dianne Day forgoes contrived cleverness and weird plots and just writes a darned good story. Her smooth writing paints characters as real as your next-door neighbor and weaves action that happens naturally. That and the details of the beautiful California coast make this book a treat.
My only criticisms (and they're small): I thought it ended too abruptly. All the tension led up to something that was over in two pages, and I like a little more closure. Also, I kept hoping that Michael would be more involved in the mystery. He wallowed in angst instead of acting, and then his angst was explained away quickly in the epilogue and didn't really have the emotional tug that it probably should have. It was Freemont's story, not Michael's, but what the author did with his character didn't quite satisfy me.
That said--I highly recommend this. I even recommend it to readers who don't like historical fiction. Fremont has a quiet feminism that is not out of keeping with her time, and the historic detail lends character but does not bog down the story.
All in all, a satisfactory read.
Other books in the Freemont Jones series: The Strange Files of Fremont Jones, Fire and Fog, and (just out in hardback), Emperor Norton's Ghost.
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