Conrad Labarde, a Basque fisherman transplanted to the shores of Amagansett, knows there's something strange about the weight in the net that he and his partner Rollo are pulling from the deep. Little did they suspect that it would be the body of a beautiful young socialite. Deputy Chief Tom Hollis, like Labarde, is not a native of the fishing village, but a policeman who has come from New York and the scandal that ruined his career. His wife has left him, and his only real friend is the uncannily talented town photographer, Abel Cole. His boss wants him to leave things well enough alone, do a brief investigation for paperwork purposes, and move on to his other responsibilities.
Hollis, who used to solve murders as part of his job, is suspicious of the entire situation. Nothing adds up. Lillian Wallace seemed content to live in her family's house in Amagansett, away from the big city. She was a sweet and pleasant girl who did nothing that would make someone want to kill her. The way her family seems to be reacting to the tragedy also puts him on edge. Hollis and Labarde sort of work together to solve the crime, though Hollis doesn't realize the extent of Labarde's help until later.
AMAGANSETT is much more than a mystery. It is a portrait of post-war America, when people are still recovering from the losses they've endured and the horrors they've witnessed. We don't just learn about the things we need to know in order to solve the mystery; we also learn a great deal about the deep running waters of fishing tradition and the difficulties these men face trying to find the right catch, as they fight with sport fishermen who want restrictions placed on those who are trying to earn a living. There are several instances where we witness the adventure and the almost preternatural instincts these people have. While on a trip, Conrad goes swordfish hunting with some powerful political people. The hunt is both beautiful and terrible, and the trap that he unleashes on an unsuspecting man is terribly clever. We learn a lot about both men's histories --- Conrad, whose path to this place took him through New York, where his father met a man of devious means, and Hollis, who misses the thrill of real police work.
There's also a neat pair of love stories embroidered very slightly throughout that, in contrast against each other, do much to add to the flavor of the book.
AMAGANSETT is wonderfully descriptive and cleverly plotted. I enjoyed Labarde as he maneuvered everything into place. You gain a great deal of respect for him, but also for Hollis, who puts together the pieces of the puzzle well.
Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer on July 22, 2004