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Book Author: Iris Yamashita

CITY UNDER ONE ROOF by Iris Yamashita: Book Review

The city of Point Mettier, Alaska is definitely unusual.  Located within commuting distance from Anchorage, when the ferry service is shut down during the winter there’s only one way in and one way out–through the tunnel.

Point Mettier began its life as a military installation and remained that until the earthquake of 1964; that’s when the army decamped.  Now it’s a shell of its former self, as seventeen-year-old Amy Lin says, and it’s gotten even worse since she and two friends find a severed hand half buried in the sand.

At first the local two-man police force and a detective sent from Anchorage think it belonged to a suicide jumper from one of the many ships that arrive in the harbor during the summer.  But that changes after the arrival of Detective Cara Kennedy, who has her own agenda for reviewing the case that the Anchorage Police Department has declared closed.

Cara had planned to make only a one-day visit to the city, but a storm closes the tunnel and she is unable to leave that day.  She checks into the sole residence in Port Mettier, known as the Davidson Condos, which has a number of rooms set aside for visitors.  Then she learns that the storm has caused an avalanche, so she’s here for an indefinite period of time.

Although it’s true, as she tells the police, that she’s a detective with the Anchorage Police Department, she neglects to say that that she’s on an emotional disability leave and is investigating the incident of the severed hand on her own, without any official sanction.

Many of the residents came to Port Mettier to leave a difficult past behind them.  It could be an involuntary stay in a psychiatric hospital, hiding from a violent spouse, or recovering from a devastating love affair.  In the case of Lonnie, a woman who has a pet moose she rescued from the hunter who killed its mother, she hears voices in her head, angry, abusive voices that are out of her control.

When Lonnie tells Cara that she won’t tell anyone her secret and that she “won’t tell you where he’s buried,” it’s not difficult for the detective to figure out that there’s something hidden in the barn where the pet moose is stabled.  And Cara finds something, a head that turns out to belong to the same person whose hand was buried in the sand.

Quite apart from the unique setting, what makes City Under One Roof a wonderful read are the characters.  Cara Kennedy is smart, determined, and trying to move ahead with her life after the devastating loss of her husband and son.  Officer Joe Barkowski, or J. B. as everyone calls him, is attempting to leave the painful memories of a love affair gone wrong.  And Chief Sipley has a secret that he’s been keeping for decades.

Iris Yamashita is a Hollywood screenwriter and has taught screenwriting at UCLA and the American Film Institute.  City Under One Roof is her first novel.  You can read more about her 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.