Brent Monahan,
The Jekyl Island Club: A Novel
(St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000)

At the end of the 19th century, 100 of America's wealthiest captains of industry and finance charted a club and bought shares in a resort they built on Jekyl Island, off the coast of Georgia. Brent Monahan embellishes this bit of history by setting a murder mystery on the island and involving no less than J.P. Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer in The Jekyl Island Club: A Novel.

Sheriff John Le Brun is plainspoken a bit rough-hewn, but he has an impeccable memory and plays a wicked game of chess. Almost excluded from knowledge of a shooting death on Jekyl Island by members who wish to keep it covered up, Le Brun takes over the investigation and quickly concludes that the victim, Erastus Springer, did not die in a shooting accident. He begins his investigation in spite of resistance from the club members, yet find an unexpected ally in newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer.

His new deputy, Warfield Tidewell, has more in common with the club than with his employer, having been raised in privilege as the son of a local judge who is deep in the pockets of the club membership. Tidewell's dismissal from a prestigious Philadelphia law firm on false charges, however, has brought him home in disgrace, although naturally he is reluctant to discuss the circumstances. He feels his loyalties torn between his new job and his erstwhile status, but le Brun consistently realigns those loyalties as together they unravel the case.

Not only is the novel an interesting look at the lives of the historical rich and famous, it is a complex and provocative mystery. Monahan throws obstacles at Le Brun at every turn. J.P. Morgan by himself would be enough for anyone. At the same time, Monahan doesn't rely on a deus ex machina to resolve the plot. Le Brun and Tidewell do all the work themselves.

In spite of subtly incorporated background information and carefully constructed motives, some of the characters are still and remote, particularly Le Brun. The reader never seems to connect fully with the character; although Monahan weaves in details that give some insight to the character, the reader is still held off at arms length. The historical figures such as Morgan and Pulitzer are livelier characters

The mystery is engrossing with a surprising solution. Mystery readers with a fondness for history will especially enjoy Brent Monahan's The Jekyl Island Club.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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