Murder on the Last Frontier
Cathy Pegau has begun a delectable new murder mystery series featuring, Charlotte Brody, an intrepid 1920s protagonist who has fled her stifling New York family for the relative wilds of Alaska. Her brother Michael escaped a few years earlier, making his way to Cordova, where he practices medicine and tries to forget the haunting memories of his World War I patients. The two siblings, once quite close but now somewhat estranged, are both trying to forget their pasts and establish new futures for themselves. Before long, the present embroils them in a local murder that the two together must solve.
Murder on the Last Frontier opens when Charlotte disembarks in Cordova. A journalist by profession and an ardent suffragist by inclination, she plans to write a series of articles for a New York magazine that depict the ways women exist and subsist in a distant Alaskan wilderness. When the body of a local prostitute is found near her hotel window, and after Michael does the autopsy, Charlotte takes the murder personally. The prostitute was pregnant, the murderer violently maimed her torso, and unbeknownst to Michael Charlotte herself has suffered the psychological stigma of an unwanted pregnancy. That’s why she’s escaped to Cordova, we soon learn.
So far, I’m afraid I’m making Murder on the Last Frontier sound especially morbid. But that’s not the case at all. There’s a handsome deputy sheriff overseeing Charlotte’s inquiries. He and Michael both try to rein in Charlotte’s investigative instincts, to no avail. A firm believer in women’s rights and women’s rights to independence, she doesn’t respond well to orders. The exchanges between the three are timely, especially because the author includes a lot of information about women’s suffrage in 1919 and about Charlotte’s New York activities both as a protestor and as a reporter. Charlotte’s Alaskan fact-finding, her assumptions, and her subsequent actions are just plain fun to follow.
If I have a complaint about Pegau’s novel, it’s the fact that I wish she had included more local color in her narrative. Sometimes I felt like the story could have occurred in almost any locale. It’s true that the cadre of prostitutes seemed realistically drawn, and that Charlotte’s interest in their plights made good sense. But aside from the incessant darkness and the foul weather, the novel might have taken place anywhere in the American West. I personally wanted more Alaska.
Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed Murder on the Last Frontier. Not only is the plot engaging, but the resolution is surprisingly plausible. And Michael and Charlotte’s back stories mesh with the mayhem of the present in quite provocative ways. My copy of Murder on the Last Frontier ends with the inclusion of the opening chapter of the next Charlotte Brody mystery, Borrowing Death. I look forward to reading chapter 2. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Cathy Pegau: Caught in Amber; Rulebreaker; Deep Deception; Borrowing Death.