Jericho Cay: A Bay Tanner Mystery
by Kathryn R. Wall
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312601850
Date: 26 April 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Darn! Reading Kathryn R. Wall's extremely engrossing Jericho Cay made me wish I had read all the previous Bay Tanner mysteries. This series is like a Southern gothic soap opera that is rife with mystery, suspense and romance. Residents of the South Carolina Lowcountry will definitely want to read it. Having myself survived several devastating hurricanes while living in Tidewater, Virginia, I could sympathize with those who were affected by Hurricane Kitty at the beginning of Jericho Cay. From this tragedy, the novel continued to tenaciously grip me all the way to the strange, creepy ending that takes place in the attic of Bay's antebellum family mansion, Presqu'isle.
The late summer, early fall setting of Hilton Head Island is beautiful. Tourist season is coming to a close in this subtropical paradise, which is comprised of huge, historical mansions; modern beachfront condominium complexes; tranquil parks; busy marinas; and secluded, privately owned islands (or cays). Though Bay lives in the gated, beachfront community of Port Royal Plantation, she still maintains her palatial, three-story mansion, which has been in her family for many generations. Presqu'isle holds many dark secrets; naturally, while combing through the attic looking for hurricane damage, Bay would stumble upon the diary of an ancestor.
I thoroughly enjoyed Jericho Cay even though it is definitely not a standalone novel. It repeatedly refers to events and persons from previous novels; there are some plot spoilers, which would ruin any surprises to be garnered from reading them. However, these spoilers bolster the intense pace of the plot and reveal more of Bay's personal and professional backgrounds. For example, the reader learns that Bay was initially married to Red Tanner's brother Rob who was killed in an early case when his plane exploded. Her former partner, Ben Wyle, died on a boat when he blocked a bullet meant for Bay. Wyle's daughter, Stephanie, is now engaged to marry Bay's new partner, the computer geek, Erik Whiteside. I think Red, a former Marine and sheriff's deputy, summed it up quite nicely when he tells Bay he isn't cut out for all the murder and mayhem that she attracts. Like I said earlier, this series is a soap opera.
The characterization is excellent. Though wealthy and privileged, Bay had an unhappy childhood. Her father, the retired judge Talbot Simpson, was successful but demanding and overbearing to the point of cruelty. He was also adulterous, hence the existence of Bay's half-sister Julia Simpson who is insane, having reverted to a childlike state after witnessing her mother's death. Elizabeth "Lizzie" Shelly has served as Julia's mother and protector for many years. She and Julia are invited to move into the palatial Presqu'isle; its sole occupant is the elderly Lavinia Smalls, a great cook who spends most of her time in the kitchen. Lavinia is like a mother to Bay whose parents have both died. Again, these sad, distraught characters are like those found in a Southern gothic soap opera.
I envy those who've been reading the Bay Tanner Mystery series from its conception. Anyone looking to read a highly suspenseful, dramatic mystery series that is set in the South and has a strong-willed female PI should take a look at these novels. Of course, if you just want to dive right in, Jericho Cay is a great place to begin. Don't expect it to be a cozy; there is too much graphic violence and not enough humor to qualify it for that. Nevertheless, with its superb plot and great characterization and numerous intriguing subplots, mystery fans will want to add this one to their summer reading list.