My preference these days is generally for a grittier, more realistic style of crime novel but sometimes, like when the real world is just a bit too gritty in its own right, the situation calls for a story in which you know the good guys will triumph. But because I don’t appreciate being patronised with second-rate writing and gimmick-laden plots it doesn’t feel like there are a lot of choices for me at the cosier end of the crime fiction spectrum anymore.
Happily, Ellery Adams’ Books by the Bay series, set in small town North Carolina, is thoroughly enjoyable and intelligent. In this fourth installment the series heroine, Olivia Limoges, receives a warning of impending death from a local woman known as the witch of Oyster Bay. The warning does prove prophetic in its way and soon Olivia and her friends are on the trail of another murderer.
Aside from having to suspend one’s disbelief regarding the Cabot Cove effect that, by nature, series featuring amateur sleuths must display, WRITTEN IN STONE offers a great story. The backdrop to investigating two suspicious deaths and one attempted murder on this occasion is a fascinating insight into the recent history of the Lumbee Tribe and an exploration of their tribulations in dealing with governments and others not inclined to treat them well. I was particularly intrigued by the story’s incorporation of something called a memory jug which, I now know, is a common form of folk art in the area. Adams weaved this item and its secrets into the story in so compelling a way that I took a break at one point to spend a happy couple of hours learning more about these pieces via my friend Google. I learned precisely nothing about American history during my Australian schooling so I love it when books teach me stuff while entertaining me.
The book also has a terrific cast of characters. I think it would be perfectly possible to read WRITTEN IN STONE without having read its predecessors but for those who have been following Olivia and her burgeoning group of friends from the beginning there’s lots of growth to be seen. The town’s writer’s group provides the core cast, including Olivia’s lover (also the police chief), and they’re a really engaging group. In this outing it’s Millay’s turn to play a larger role than the others as she identifies with a young Lumbee woman who becomes the target of an unknown bad guy’s deadly ire. Without being didactic Adams uses Millay’s development and the novel’s resolution to depict the different ways that a lasting impact often results from the things we experience as children. Series fans will also enjoy learning more about Olivia’s past, the starring role of Haviland (Olivia’s standard poodle) and the fact that her romance with Sawyer seems to be cementing into a sound relationship.
WRITTEN IN STONE is definitely not for those looking for blood and gore or a novel depicting the seedy underbelly of our modern world. If, on the other hand, you like books with a dash of humour, a rollicking plot, the kinds of characters you would choose as your own friends and delicious smidgens of North Carolina history and culture then this is the book for you.
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Publisher Berkley 
Length 273 pages
Book Series #4 in the Books by the Bay series
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