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THE LABOR DAY MURDER
By Lee Harris
Fawcett Gold Medal, 1998
Reviewed by S. E. Warwick
In these times of what "is" is, those little words in our language that bind, clarify, and organize our thoughts are getting the attention they deserve. One such word, the, used incorrectly in the first paragraph of The Labor Day Murder, grabbed my attention like fingernails on a black board.
Most people wouldn’t have noticed, or been bothered by an awkward "the." At first, I wondered if author Harris was Canadian. (North of the border, you are "in hospital" after surgery and drive on the 401 to get somewhere.) Reading further along, I began to seriously doubt that Harris had spent much time on Long Island, a 120 mile long, twenty mile wide island with more people than most states. I did a bit of sleuthing of my own and discovered that Harris lives in Tenafly, New Jersey, not far from Long Island Sound, no "the" in front, ever.
Close enough, in fact, to really make me wonder at her use of words. The heroine of this series, Christine Bennett (The Labor Day Murder is the tenth book in the series), is a nosy former nun married to a New York City cop. They have produced a perfect baby who neither cries nor fusses, ever. He sleeps through the night, and though not house broken, swims in pools without causing public health problems. The Bennetts live in a cottage she inherited from an aunt on the water. Unless they live way out, the taxes alone on such a property would be more than a policeman’s salary could cover.
Reading on, the plot of this yarn unfurls on Fire Island, a sand spit located off of Long Island’s south shore. She really had been to this place and got the place’s flavor just right. After setting the stage, the obligatory body appears and the mystery starts.
The dialogue is a little hard to believe. When poking her nose into the murder, Christine, introduces herself, says she is a former nun now married with a baby and asks rather personal questions. People never ask why she left the convent, or doesn’t she think that the police should be asking the questions. Her husband never tells her to mind her own business and does a little nosing around of his own.
When a cloistered nun friend of Christine’s visits to help solve the mystery, people never stop and stare at someone in full penguin regalia. We get a touch of nun lore, like mirrors need to be covered, but it only serves to confuse the issue. The first work in this series, The Good Friday Murder, won an Edgar. Maybe Harris is getting tired of her characters, or is just so good at cranking them out that she’s stopped paying attention to detail. If you want holiday mayhem, try Jane Haddam’s Gregor Demarkian series. This one was nothing to celebrate.
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