My good friend, and fellow mystery author, William Florence has done it again. He has produced yet another superlative mystery novel for his Max Blake Mystery series, this time aboard the cruise ship Bonanza. This adventure is book nine in a series of entertaining and fun novels, and it’s titled Neptune’s Ridge. Indeed, every Max Blake/Caeli Brown mystery Bill writes has “Ridge” somewhere in the title. Bill also has a series of Max Blake Westerns, but the Max Blake in that 19th century setting is a distant forebear to the Max Blake in his 21st century mysteries — a bit like how Britt Reid (The Green Hornet) is the grandson of Dan Reid, who was the murdered brother of John Reid (The Lone Ranger). Anyway, you get the picture — Bill’s Westerns have a distant connection to his modern mysteries.
Neptune’s Ridge is a direct descendant of that wonderful English literary invention known as the cozy mystery. It’s fun, and Max Blake is the type of sarcastic and witty type of protagonist that I just love. If you’re a fan of Nelson DeMille‘s John Corey then you’ll feel right at home in this novel. The characters possess the perfect blend of whimsy (the two little old ladies who insist upon helping the investigation), menace (Bonanza‘s security officer and his loyal henchmen), reluctant allies (Bonanza‘s I.T. expert, the captain, and the ship’s doctor), and enough suspects and misdirection to keep you guessing for much of the novel.
Former journalist/retired journalism professor/true crime author Max Blake and his adventurous wife and fellow former journalist Caeli Brown are on a month-long cruise to Hawaii and destinations in the South Pacific. With them are Max’s publisher “Bulletproof” Bob Beauvais, his good friend retired Portland, Oregon chief of police Bill Kohlmeyer and Bill’s wife Skyla, and fellow author and friend Peter Eichstaedt. Max and Peter are traveling gratis because they’ve been lassoed by Bulletproof Bob into participating in a series of authors forums for their fellow passengers. Also aboard is … well, let me just quote this from the novel’s Cast of Primary Characters in the front matter — R. Doug Wicker: Noted Author and Peter’s friend. No. I’m not making that up. I’m in on the mystery. Bill twisted my arm. By “twisted” I mean he asked, and I was greatly honored to acquiesce to his generous request.
Bonanza sets sail in early 2020, and it isn’t long into the voyage before the first body shows up — an inconspicuous college professor who has been poisoned. Max and Caeli are pressed into investigative service, and things start going rapidly downhill from there. En route to Hawaii more poisonings and other mayhem occur, and an epidemic has erupted from China and is rapidly encircling the globe. Yes… it’s that epidemic — Covid 19.
Max and Caeli must reveal the culprit before Bonanza makes Hawaii and the killer escapes. Clouding the issue are a multitude of suspects, multiple motives, menacing and malignant crew, and a foreboding sense that the two detectives might just be next on the killer’s List of Greatest Hits. For me, the real fun was the Epilogue: An Opulent Feast; this is where I found out what fate awaited me as Bill tied up the few remaining loose ends from Chapter Thirty-Seven: Cleanup on Deck 4.
Cozy mysteries are great fun. They’re perfect for the beach or by the fireplace, quick reads, and, most importantly, they’re entertaining. And Bill has mastered the formula to perfection while modernizing that formula for today’s audience. His plotting is tight. His protagonists are fun and witty. His villains are menacing and motivated. His herrings are the appropriate shade of red. For a mere $2.99 (Kindle price) you can’t do much better for several hours of engaging fun.
Who know? If you give this a try you might just have found a new favorite author, because Bill’s talents will definitely have you coming back for more.
A little background on Bill and me: We met online way back in early September 2009. We are both Walther enthusiasts, and he was a super moderator for Walther Forums. When he gave up that position, he asked me to take over his duties, which I did for quite some time. Even though Bill quit visiting Walther Forums, as have I, we’ve remained in touch and we occasionally compare notes on cruising and international travel. I look forward to the four of us (including our wives, of course) meeting up one day and cruising together to some exotic locale. How about it, Bill?
By the way, I included that tidbit about Walther Forums and moderating a firearms site because it’s relevant to Wednesday’s article — a rant on bad moderation and blatantly dangerous advice from a self-proclaimed “expert” who directly contradicts instructions set forth in owner’s manuals as set forth by the true experts who actually design, test, and manufacture the guns in question.
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