“Murder at Royale Court”
Author: G. P. Gardner
Publisher: Lyrical Underground, Kensington Publishing Corp.
Price: $15.95 (Paper)
Only this spring I reviewed G. P. Gardner’s debut mystery, “Murder at Harbor Village,” and found it a satisfying, pleasing cozy, complete with cats.
We met Cleo Mack, who retires from an academic position as sociology professor in Atlanta, and takes over as administrator of this Fairhope retirement complex.
Still attractive, Cleo is being courted by several men, some creepy, some not.
An orderly woman, Cleo sets her next day’s clothes out each evening and we are told what she is wearing each day: on one day, “turquoise sweater, diamond-patterned trouser socks” with her standard black pants. On Saturday she allows herself jeans (faded, but no rips, no stains), and a faded cotton sweater.
Likewise, Cleo soon has Harbor Village running smoothly. Gardner seems intent on showing the reader how to manage a senior center.
We learn about redecorating shabby apartments, screening in porches and adding attractive wicker furniture. We learn that seniors love their meals and especially desserts and some never miss refreshments at any event. The reader is informed of the occupancy rate and generally how to keep the place profitable.
Gardner is a smooth storyteller with an easy style and this all goes down easily. Fairhope is presented as a very attractive place with knitting shops, candle stores, nice cafes. We are told, surprisingly, that Fairhope gets more rain than Seattle.
The big public event during this novel is a show of rare and valuable luxury cars—Duesenburgs, Reos, Cords, Stutz Bearcats, and so on, which is being held at the polo field, the Grand Concours. There are not port-a-potties but a row of restroom trailers, with attendants. There is also an attempted scam where investors must put in a minimum of $100,000 to buy part of a very rare Bugatti which would then resell for millions.
Where else in Alabama (or, for that matter, anywhere) would a Bugatti scam be taking place at a polo field? This serves as a warning to the one percenters to be on their toes.
“Murder at Royale Court” is NOT a satire of Fairhope, but with a little twist, it could be.
You may have noticed I have said nothing about a murder at the Royale Court shopping complex. Neither does Gardner until page 47, when a body is discovered in a bathroom. There is not a drop of blood.
The victim?—Devon Wheat, a local and not very trustworthy financial advisor. Wheat is found in tight black shorts and knit shirt, for he is a “biker”: a Fairhope biker, that is, he rides bicycles.
Cleo’s daughter responds to the homicide appropriately. She says to her mom, “You wouldn’t come to Birmingham because of crime and now you’re in the middle of a murder investigation for the second time in six months This isn’t normal.”
There are suspects galore, especially since trust funds, wills, inheritances, disputes over property partnerships, investments of all sorts, sensible and preposterous, are daily issues here.
But there is surprisingly little uproar. The police, especially lieutenant Mary Montgomery, and Cleo are more or less on the case, but life in Fairhope goes on with nary a ripple.
At the Friday evening Mexican Train domino game, Dolly says “I’ll tell you what I want. I want to know who murdered that stockbroker and why nobody’s talking about it.”
Cozies eschew carnage, true, but if I may repurpose a phrase from the old cowboys and Indians films, this novel is quiet, too quiet.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.