If you’re about ready for that winter getaway, or if you’d like to try somewhere tropical for your summer holiday, you may be thinking that the Caribbean would be the perfect choice. After all, there are plenty of beautiful islands, with lots of perfect beaches. Whether you like swimming, casinos, water sport or just simply enjoying nature, you’ll find lots to do. Oh, and there’s Caribbean music, too.
But there’s plenty of mystery, to say nothing of the danger from nature (e.g. hurricanes). And all sorts of people go there, with all sorts of backgrounds. So it’s little wonder that we see the Caribbean depicted in crime fiction.
Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery is set on the island of St. Honoré in the West Indies. Miss Marple is staying at the Golden Palm Hotel, courtesy of her nephew Raymond West, for a much-needed rest. One day she gets into a conversation with the long-winded Major Palgrave, who tells her about a man he knows of who lost two wives, both allegedly by suicide. But Major Palgrave suspects that they were murdered. He doesn’t get the opportunity to finish his story during that conversation, but Miss Marple remembers it. When Palgrave is found dead the next morning, Miss Marple is sure that someone at the resort doesn’t want the truth about those other deaths to come out. It turns out that she’s quite right, and that the resort hides some very dark secrets.
Fans of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee will know that McGee docks his boat The Busted Flush at the marina in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. In Darker Than Amber, he and his friend Meyer are fishing one night under a bridge when they save a young woman named Evangeline from being drowned after she is thrown from the bridge. As McGee and Meyer learn, Evangeline’s near death is related to a very dangerous fraud scheme going on aboard a cruise ship. So they take a Caribbean cruise to track down the people responsible. Even Caribbean cruises aren’t always lovely, restful experiences…
Leonardo Padura’s Havana quartet is set in modern Cuba. It features Lieutenant Mario Conde, who tries to do the best he can despite challenges such as low budgets, constant scrutiny and the fact that he’d rather write than be a cop. In the first novel, Máscaras/Havana Red, Conde and his team investigate when the body of a transvestite named Alexis Arayán is found in the Havana Woods. Since the victim was the son of a diplomat, this is going to be a delicate matter. It’s even more so for Arayán’s partner Alberto Marques, who is a playwright and director. Marques is already ‘on the fringe’ because of his sexual orientation, and it’s not going to help him or his career if he gets too deeply involved in this case. But he works with Conde to find out who called his partner and why.
We also get a look at Cuba, this time pre-revolutionary Cuba, in Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra.’In that novel, which takes place in 1957, we meet fledgling journalist Joaquín Porrata. One day, he hears of the murder of Umberto Anastasia, a gangster known as The Great Executioner of Murder. Anastasia was killed in a New York barbershop, but Porrata has reason to think his murder is connected with Mob turf wars in Havana. It’s also connected with the killing of a hippopotamus that escaped from the local zoo.
There are also Bob Morris’ Zack Chasteen novels. Chasteen is a former player for the Miami Dolphins. He’s also a wrongly-convicted ex-convict. He gets reluctantly drawn into the PI business in Bahamarama, shortly after he’s been released from a Florida prison. He’s in the Bahamas on his way to visit his lover Barbara Pickering when he gets involved in a case of abduction and murder. Barbara’s ex-fiancé has been killed, and she’s been taken, with a huge ransom demanded. Chasteen works with the local police inspector Lynfield Pederson to find out where Barbara is, and confront those responsible. In this case, Chasteen past catches up with him…
And then there’s James L’Etoile’s Little River, which takes place on Jamaica. Andrea Carson is more than worried that her daughter Holly hasn’t returned as planned from her spring break at Montego Bay. When she gets no help from authorities, she decides to go there and look for Holly. With her is Grant Turner, whose daughter Jena also seems to have disappeared. The two girls went on the trip together, so their parents are hoping that they may both be found. When Carson and Turner arrive at Montego Bay, they start asking questions, which immediately draw the attention of local crime boss Jon-Pierre Baptiste. Among his other ‘enterprises’ is human trafficking, and it’s not long before his path crosses that of Carson and Turner. Now it’s a game of ‘cat and mouse’ as the two parents work desperately to try to find and save their daughters.
It’s no secret that the Caribbean is also a popular place to hide money. Offshore accounts can be effective places to keep funds from the hands of tax assessors and auditors, among other people. So it’s little wonder that Ava Lee ends up in the Caribbean in Ian Hamilton’s The Water Rat of Wanchai. Lee is a forensic accountant whose specialty is tracking down large amounts of money that people want to keep hidden. She works for Chow Tung, whom she calls Uncle. Uncle’s company is based in Hong Kong, and is the last resort for people who’ve had money stolen from them and are desperate to get it back. Such a person is Andrew Tam, whose company has been bilked out of five million dollars. He hires Uncle, and therefore Lee, to find the money. The trail takes Lee to Georgetown, Guyana, where she tracks down Jackson Seto, who likely knows where the money is. The only problem is that most of Guyana is under the control of crime boss Captain Robbins. Lee knows that she’ll never be able to catch Seto or get the money without Robbins’ sanction, so she forms an uneasy, unstrusting and costly alliance with him. There’s no guarantee that the money will ever be forthcoming, but Lee is determined to do her best. In this novel, the search for the money leads to a few places in the Caribbean.
See? And you thought the Caribbean was just an exciting holiday destination…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier.