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Island Mysteries

Monhegan Island sits twelve nautical miles off the Maine coast, a rocky and forested chunk of land a mile-and-a-half long and three-quarters-of-a-mile wide. For 150 years it has attracted artists, who came for the magical light and the dramatic vistas from the cliffs that ring the island. Among those artists have been Rockwell Kent, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and the Wyeths. And my great aunt and uncle, Mary Taylor and Andrew Winter.

They were among the very few Monhegan artists who lived on Monhegan year round and their paintings show Monhegan in all seasons. The island is an especially meaningful spot for my family. My parents got engaged there, and my whole family loved visiting the island together earlier this summer, hiking, painting, exploring, swimming, reading, and eating lobster and fresh fish.

The trip go me thinking about islands. There's something about the way community forms on an island that feels unique, an interdependence that creates tight bonds — and probably some resentments. Mystery writers have set their novels on islands for just this reason. Donna Andrews set her 2006 novel Murder with Puffins, on Monhegan. A 2016 novel by Elizabeth Kelly, The Miracle on Monhegan Island, is told from the perspective of a complicated island family's dog. Congressman turned novelist Robert J. Mrazek (in whose district office I worked when I was in high school and college) wrote the screenplay for and co-directed a film called The Congressman, set and filmed on Monhegan.

I recently posted about my favorite island mysteries, including The Skull Beneath the Skin, one of P.D. James' two novels to feature private eye Cordelia Gray and one of two island tales she wrote. (The other is The Lighthouse, the penultimate Adam Dalgliesh mystery.) In the novel, Cordelia is summoned to creepy Courcy Island by the husband of a once-famous actress who's been receiving threatening letters. There's a Victorian castle and, of course, murder. Some other island mysteries I've enjoyed include Lucy Foley's The Guest List, Rachel Howzell Hall's They All Fall Down, Tessa Wegert's Death in the Family, Paul Doiron's Stay Hidden, and Ann Cleeves' Shetland novels. And then, of course, there are Agatha Christie's two island novels, And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun, two of my favorites.


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