As I was reading this delightful cozy mystery set on the island of Anagada, the phrase “Land of Love and Drowning” kept drifting through my mind. Why? Ah yes…
The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, though set mostly on St. Thomas in the American Virgin Islands, has a main character whose mother was born on Anagada. So it was quite interesting to compare how the two different authors treated the island. In The Land of Love and Drowning, Anagada is mysterious, desolate, slow, magical and wild, with a legendary feel. In Sun, Sand, and Murder, it is brisk and modern–kind of like the setting in the BBC series Death in Paradise. Although both MCs are descended from slaves, Sun, Sand, and Murder‘s Special Constable Teddy Creque is not haunted by history. He suffers no historical trauma.
Which is a good thing, because he’s got other problems. His marriage is falling apart–he’s cheating on his wife with this hot helicopter pilot– and he’s in trouble with his boss. There hasn’t been a murder on Anagada for 20 years, until De White Rasta stumbles over one on the beach at Spanish Camp. While trying to protect the body from being eaten completely by land crabs and seagulls, Teddy disturbs the crime scene and almost gets fired. Oh, and he pukes 3 times. I don’t blame him. (I’m also off seafood for awhile.)
De White Rasta is one of my favorite characters in this book, or possibly ever. He speaks with a fake Jamaican accent, and is always stoned but happy. His real name is Lord Anthony Wedderburn, and he escaped from England as a young man and didn’t even go back for his father’s funeral. Despite his mildly hedonistic exterior, he has a good soul with hidden depths, which we plumb later.
The lady who runs the bar at Cow Wreck Beach is also cool. Belle makes conch fritters and cooks six-pound lobsters with panache. She also lets De White Rasta crash on an Army cot behind her place (he is homeless) as long as he clears out before the customers arrive.
Wendell the grumpy treasure hunter and his silent mistress Marie are also interesting. There are always treasure hunters on Anagada, thanks to Pirate Bone and Pirate Something Else during the 1600s. Wendell finds cannon balls and buttons and other historical detritus. but he has yet to find The Big One. One of his pet rants is that there is no such thing as a true treasure map.
Like the other characters, Teddy is very likable but flawed and troubled. He has to work 3 jobs in order to keep food on the table for his 2 kids. His wife Icilda works long hours as a waitress and they barely see each other. Teddy is the island’s customs officer, a Special Constable (one step lower on the ladder than a uniformed policeman) and he works at the power plant. The “belongers” on the island have the usual “been here’s” attitude to tourists: we like your money, but sometimes you irritate us. Being from a tourist town myself, I get it. (One Winter Carnival when my brother was especially annoyed, he coined the term “touron”–a combination of tourist and moron.) Anyway, when one of the generators at the power plant dies, Teddy has to decide which side of the island loses power so they don’t blow the whole thing. He has to decide between The Settlement, where the belongers live, or the other side with the tourist hotels. It is no contest. The belongers always lose, because everyone on the island knows the value of tourism.
This was a fun, easy to read romp through Anagadan history (pirates, treasure, Arawak and Carib Indians, and a mid-20th century scammer called Nigel Brooks, who stole millions from the government). The modern stuff was fun too. Fishing for bonefish, mudding, lobsters and crabs and shrimp, oh my! I definitely wanted to visit. I also wanted to rescue the dozens of skeletal cows who wander the island and block the roads. Poor underfed dears.
RATING: Five buckets of conch shells!