This month, as part of my continuing effort to cover at least one classic or highly recommended Cozy mystery every month, I’ve read the first entry in Barbara Ross‘s Maine Clambake Mystery Series, Clammed Up.
Julia Snowden has gone back to her family home in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, for the summer. A national economic recession and a poorly timed bank loan to try to expand before the economy broke have left the Snowden Family Clambake Company in dire straits, and Julia’s expertise in finance make her the perfect person to attempt a last-ditch financial solution before the bank calls the loan in.
The Snowden family has run their clambake company for about half a century, running guests out to their privately owned Morrow Island to partake in some of the finest delicacies the local waters can offer, a remote island several hours away by boat.
One of the parts of the financial solution includes opening up the clambake to new and different clienteles other than the regular twice-daily tourist crowd, such as offering early season special outings like wedding receptions. Unfortunately, the first such wedding reception is ruined by the discovery of a body on the island, that of the best man – and in the best classic mystery fashion, it seems like everyone has some sort of motive for doing him in.
One thing I really appreciated about Clammed Up is that the mystery is revealed almost immediately at the outset of the book. While there is a lot to be said for establishing a strong setting and cast, many novels tend to “meander” through the lives of the protagonist for far too long before getting to the mystery, especially in the first entry of the series. That isn’t the case here.
That isn’t to say that this establishment doesn’t occur – there is a great deal of time taken up in the first half of the novel with establishing the community, the family’s routine, what an average clambake is like, and other similar details. But all of it takes place with the murder already firmly established and in mind, which really helps a novel for someone like myself who appreciates the mystery as much as its backdrop.
Another thing I really love about Clammed Up is the cast. In some cases, the urge to make Cozy characters feel “unique” and “quirky” can backfire, making them feel more like caricatures than genuine characters. Clammed Up doesn’t fall into that trap – less sympathetic figures in the town still feel like people trying to do the best job they can under trying circumstances, rather than stubborn obstructionists that are outright trying to either ruin the Snowden family or cover up the crime (well, aside from the criminal, of course).
If you’re looking for a great Cozy set in a scenic, picturesque setting with interesting but believable characters and an engaging mystery that will present itself almost immediately, I can strongly recommend Clammed Up. I feel that this might be an especially good Cozy for those of us who are missing our own summers just a little bit more this year, as it can let you escape to the scenic seaside, if only for a bit.
P.S. As always, if you are interested in reading some of the other entries about highly recommended Cozy Mystery series, you can find them at the Most Recommended Cozy Mystery Series page on the site.