Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler is the second of ten books I’m reading for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. It’s kind of fun trying to find books that I ordinarily would not read. And this is one of them. Mariner’s Compass won the 2000 Agatha Award for Best Novel. I don’t know too much about the Agatha Awards, but I believe they are reader generated for mystery writing, so there are really no standards except popularity.
Fowler has written quite a few books with the same main character, Benni Harper. This is the first I’ve heard of Fowler and Benni Harper. It’s sometimes difficult warming up to a character mid-series, but I had no problems here. Benni Harper lives in the fictional town of San Celina, located on California’s central coast. She is newly married to the town’s Chief of Police, Gabe Ortiz.
As the book opens, Benni receives a phone call from her friend Amanda, who is a local lawyer. Amanda informs Benni that she is the sole beneficiary of the estate of the recently deceased Jacob Chandler, a man Benni has never met. In order to inherit the estate, Benni must sleep at Chandler’s now vacant house alone every night for two weeks.
As soon as Benni takes up the challenge, complications ensue. There are friends and acquaintances of Chandler’s who don’t think Benni is entitled to Chandler’s estate. There is a dog who comes with the house. And of course Gabe, the ever suspicious policeman, does not want Benni involved in this at all. Benni, however, is determined to see this through and discover who Jacob Chandler is, and why she is his heir.
Chandler left clues for Benni, and she follows them in a scavenger hunt fashion. These clues take her all over central and southern California. In fact for me, the most interesting parts of the book are the descriptions of rural California.
Benni (like Fowler) is an avid quilter. Jacob Chandler was a highly skilled woodworker. These two crafts are woven into the story, and also add some interest. Basically, this book was easy and fun to read. it was, however, rather bland and lacked the excitement of a great mystery.
Published in hardcover-Penguin Putnam 1999
Softcover edition-Berkley 2000