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AN HONEST MAN by Michael Koryta: Book Review

Salvation Point Island is a misnomer if ever there was.  A small rocky island off the coast of Maine, it once was home to a community of fishermen who made their living off the bountiful waters between Maine and Canada that are now called the Lost Zone.  When the federal government banned lobster fishing in the Zone, the community was devastated and most of its residents left.

Not Israel Pike, though, and not his uncle Sterling Pike.  Israel has just returned to the island after serving 15 years for the murder of his father.  The island is policed by his uncle, the only law enforcement agent on Salvation Point, a man with complete control and a strong antipathy toward Israel.

A few weeks after Israel’s return to his father’s house, he spots a vessel in trouble.  The boat is moving, to Israel’s knowledgeable eye, without anyone at the helm, and Israel rows out to see if he can help.

Boarding the yacht, he comes across an incredibly gruesome scene.  After he finds the first body, he’s certain that no one else on the Mereo is alive and he’s right.  There are six more.

The investigation into the murders is being run jointly by Israel’s uncle Stirling Pike and Jenn Salazar of the Maine State Police.  Although there is nothing connecting Israel to the murder, Stirling is determined to make his nephew’s life as miserable as possible, to the point of inciting several townspeople to brutally assault Israel.

The young Lyman Ranklin is also a victim of aggression, only in his case it’s his alcoholic father who beats him on a regular, almost daily, basis.  The twelve-year-old’s only refuge is a nearby house, nearly a ruin, believed by all to be uninhabited since the death of its owner.  On this day, running from yet another beating, Lyman takes refuge in the house but realizes almost at once that he is not alone.

Even before he sees the woman, Lyman can smell her, a smell of salt water and copper, although almost at once he realizes that the latter smell is from blood.  She is dripping blood from the many cuts on her feet and holding a hatchet, and she’s only five feet in front of him.

A Honest Man thus has two protagonists, each one wounded and vulnerable, each one very much alone in the only home he’s ever known.  The only person on Salvation Point Island who believes in them and shows them kindness is Dar, the owner of the island’s convenience store.  She does her best to help Israel and Lyman, but in her attempt to assist Lyman she unknowingly puts his life in danger.

Michael Koryta is an outstanding crime writer.  His writing is taut and to the point, his characters are credible, and the Maine setting is brought beautifully to life.  And he answers, with complete believability, the question of why people remain on Salvation Point, when poverty and violence surround them.  As one of the characters tells Israel, “I don’t intend to let anyone run me off my own island.”

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.




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