If you love your mysteries gentle, bloodless and with a heaping helping of scripture and inspiration, then try curling up with WHISPERS THROUGH THE TREES, the first installment in the 14-book Mysteries of Sparrow Island series with multiple authors.
Sisters Susan Plunkett and Krysteen Seelen team up for book one, which introduces Abigail "Abby" Stanton, a Cornell ornithologist and godly 55-year-old career woman who has made a name for herself in the birding world. When her widowed sister Mary, a florist, is in a terrible car accident, Abby takes a sabbatical from her job. She returns home to the fictional Sparrow Island (just off the coast of Washington State in the real-life San Juan Islands) to help care for Mary until she can live alone again.
Mary's accident costs her the use of her legs, and even with rehabilitation it will take months for her to adjust to a wheelchair and build up her strength. As Abby works with Mary to help her regain her independence, the enforced closeness is a catalyst for them to work through old grudges they've nurtured since high school.
Abby, self-reliant and single, discovers the joys of living near to her aging parents and reconnecting with old friends. The slower pace of island life, the kindness of the island people and the gradually deepening relationship with her sister cause her to put off returning to her beloved job at Cornell.
Conservation themes and a delight in the beauty of creation permeate the story. You don't have to enjoy birding to like this book, but bird lovers will find Abby's search for the marbled murrelet an interesting facet of the plot. The marbled murrelet, for non-birders, is a real-life endangered little brown seabird. When Abby discovers that a pair may be nesting in old growth timber on Sparrow Island, their presence might give her the final reason she needs to stay. "God worked all things for His purpose," muses Abby. "If the appearance of the rarities bought her more time with Mary, He had made it happen."
Indeed, God oversees every aspect of Abby's life in the novel, from praying for patience with her sister, to "stepping out in faith" to share details of a possible rare bird, to God's timely intervention in sending a strong guy to carry her grocery bags to the car. Sometimes the faith elements feel a little overdone, and Scripture verses are sprinkled throughout. However, conservative Christian readers will find that the lack of profanity, sex and violence makes this a restful read.
The middle-aged police officer, Sergeant Henry Cobb, provides a nice, light romantic note in the plot. Mary's own conflicts about beginning a new romance while wheelchair-bound (and wondering if Cobb's interest is only pity) provide more interest. And a mysterious man who leaves a journal and drawings for Abby to find adds a small amount of suspense to the story. Be warned, however --- this is not an Agatha Christie-type detective novel. Rather, it is a gentle, homespun tale with the dash of suspense serving as a secondary element. Nothing in this cozy will give you bad dreams, and most readers will figure out the mystery man before the closing pages unveil his identity.
Guideposts originally released this series through its hardcover book club and only recently began making these mysteries available to a general audience. Readers who love the wonder of creation, the joys of family ties and the importance of faith in everyday life will appreciate Abby's continuing story.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011
Whispers Through the Trees: Mysteries of Sparrow Island #1