Review

The Alpine Pursuit

by Mary Daheim



Fans of Mary Daheim's Emma Lord mysteries, set in a remote area of
Washington State, will almost certainly be surprised when they pick
up a copy of her latest book. Daheim's previous works have been
issued in mass-market paperback. That Daheim's work should now
receive the hardcover treatment, in the current climate wherein the
book publishing industry seems to be ruled by the computer tracking
of sales and remainders, is indeed an accomplishment.

It really isn't surprising, however. Daheim works in the world of
what are respectfully referred to as "drawing room mysteries," or
"cozies" for short. These novels are usually set in small towns or
rural areas, feature a female protagonist and involve crimes of
violence that normally take place off the page. Think Agatha
Christie, or the television program Murder, She Wrote. The
readership of this subgenre is overwhelmingly female and buys these
books by the carload. Several years ago, while a houseguest of a
family, I opened a closet where the wife stored her books and
almost sustained death by paperback when the books tumbled down on
me. The readers of these novels also share them. I would very
unscientifically guess that the pass-through rate is three or four
per title. Not bad at all. The hardcover treatment for THE ALPINE
PURSUIT accordingly appears to be richly deserved.

THE ALPINE PURSUIT finds Emma Lord continuing her slow recovery
from the death of her beloved Tom Cavenaugh. Lord, the editor of
the weekly Alpine Advocate, manages to keep busy with her
newspaper duties; it is in this capacity that she attends the
opening night of the latest performance of The Alpine Council
Dramatic Club. The original drama that is presented is an updating
of The Wizard of Oz, with the climax featuring the shooting
of the villain of the piece. After the curtain goes down, however,
the curtain goes up on a murder mystery, with one of the actors
dead of a gunshot wound. Lord uses her office and the power of the
press to allow herself to delve into matters that would otherwise
be off-limits to her, though her on-again, off-again friendship
with town Sheriff Milo Dodge certainly doesn't hurt things.

What is interesting about the Alpine series is that Lord basically
does the same thing that Robert B. Parker's Spenser does, which is
kicking things over until something crawls out. Lord is much more
genteel about it, however, and at least as much of THE ALPINE
PURSUIT is given over to town gossip and Lord's relationship with
the citizens as it is to solving the mystery of who substituted
real slugs for blanks in the stage gun. Some suspension of
disbelief is, of course, required for the genre. Given the number
of prior Emma Lord titles, this small tourist/university town in
Washington State would have a per capita murder rate that
would give New Orleans a run for its money if it existed in the
real world. These titles are escapist literature, but there's
nothing wrong with that, especially when Daheim is in charge of the
writing.

The hardcover release of THE ALPINE PURSUIT could help give this
branch of the mystery genre some of the respect that it so richly
deserves. Recommended, particularly for fans of the genre.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 20, 2011

The Alpine Pursuit
by Mary Daheim

  • Publication Date: March 30, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345467159
  • ISBN-13: 9780345467157