Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ
Mary Anna Evans’s seventh Faye Longchamp mystery is told to the backdrop of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil platform blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. While perhaps not the strongest entry in this laudable series, Plunder provides the same high quality character studies and archaeological verisimilitude that this reader has come to expect from the pen of Ms. Evans.
The stage for this tale is set in the backwaters of Plaquemines Parish in the delta country south of New Orleans—a land whose history is rich in the lore of pirates, runaway slaves, and hidden treasure. Faye’s fledgling cultural resources management firm is a small business by anyone’s definition: its staff consists of her, her husband Joe Wolf Mantooth, and part-time technician and babysitter to Faye and Joe’s toddler, Michael. With the aid of as-needed sub-contractors, Faye and Joe undertake a fairly standard, albeit geographically wide-ranging survey of archaeological sites as part of a wider environmental impact study. The scope of the project does an abrupt about-face when news of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe hits and they are engaged to quickly assess and set benchmarks for identified sites that very likely will be impacted by the giant oil slick that is approaching the Gulf Coast.
Faye and Joe run their CRM operation from a houseboat moored at Lafitte Marina, next to a houseboat occupied by a colorful, if not downright eccentric duo: the aged Voodoo mambo (priestess) Miranda Landreneau and her teenaged set-grand daughter Amande. Abandoned by her mother and a father she never knew, Amande is a tall, beautiful young woman, who when not taking high school AP classes via the computer, plies the islands and bayous of Barataria Bay in search of archaeological artifacts.
The joyousness of Amande’s carefree existence and the bonding of Faye and Amande as two kindred spirits discover each other turns dark very quickly when Hebert Demeray, grand mere Miranda’s dissolute son is found floating beside the houseboat, brutally murdered. At the same time, a clutch of low-life relatives descend upon Miranda and Amande and their houseboat when another death in the family—Amande’s absentee mother—kicks off an unseemly scramble for a paltry inheritance (a few oil stocks and a deserted tide-washed island in Barataria Bay) that for the most part, ought to be Amande’s.
The drunken buffoonery and infidelities of the extended clan lose their clownishness when grand mere Miranda is savagely slain and found, like her son Hebert, floating in the marina’s waters. While madly trying to keep on top of the demands of the CRM contract, Faye realizes that the maniac loose in the bayou presents a very real danger to Amande. Could the killer possibly be slaying close kin to gain legal claim to the seemingly insignificant inheritance of the Landreneau clan? Or is the bequest perhaps more valuable than it would appear? And what about the handsome young treasure-hunting underwater archaeologist that appears to be as interested in “Amande’s island” in the bay as he is in Amande’s nubile young body? As the gloom surrounding the Landreneau family deepens, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill moves inexorably closer to the Gulf shore, providing this Southern gothic tale with an apt metaphor.
Mary Anna Evans weaves a satisfying narrative tapestry as she once again captures the compassion and generosity that is so central to the characters of Faye and Joe as they battle to protect Amande from the evil that seems to surround her. Woven into this tapestry is the looming nightmare that is the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the struggles of Faye’s new business venture. All of the elements are deftly entwined by an increasingly masterful storyteller.
Three trowels for Plunder.