Katherine Bolger Hyde: Hanging with Hugo

Crime with the Classics #6

Set on the Oregon coast, this charming series features B & B owner Emily, a former professor, and her sheriff husband Luke.  In this outing they’ve just returned from their honeymoon and are getting set to host the wedding of Emily’s half-brother Oscar.  They feel prepared for the tsunami of family and general chaos brought on by a wedding, but when they return home they find the church where it is to take place has been hit by an actual storm, with massive damage to the roof as well as a beautiful rose window in the nave.  The squishy floor and holes in the roof aren’t exactly conducive to the perfect wedding, so Emily, an heiress, donates some money of her own and arranges further financing through the town to get repairs started.

Their first B & B guests are the stained-glass restorer and family. Baby Raphael scorns clothes and pees just about everywhere and soon the entire household is literally holding their breath until one of the guest cottages opens up so the family have their own space.  The next guests – or rather refugees – are more heartbreaking.  Emily’s priest has asked her to take in Moses and his soon to be adopted daughter, Charlotte, who are fleeing the shelter Moses runs in Portland. A social worker seems to have it in for them, holding up Charlotte’s adoption in favor of the stepfather who abused her and beat her mother.  Events have so traumatized her that she cannot speak.

Emily and Luke reserve judgment about the pair, but when they actually meet gentle Moses, a massive black man, and sweet Charlotte, a budding artist, their doubts evaporate.  When it turns out that both baby Raphael’s family and the parents of Emily’s soon to be sister-in-law, Lauren, have had bad encounters with the very same problematic social worker, there is – by all the laws of the mystery novel – an immediate target on the woman’s back.  In classic fashion the person everyone has a motive to kill is indeed killed, and this time the suspect pool all seems to be residing in the sheriff’s home. As Luke sets out to check everyone’s alibis, he learns that the errant stepfather has also turned up in town, adding yet another possible murderer.

The wedding details are fun – Lauren’s family is Chinese and so there’s a church wedding followed by a Chinese banquet at the house, which makes for a fine finale.  The wrap of the story is suspenseful, but gently so, and does involve some solid detective work on the part of Luke and his small team.

This is a nicely told tale with some great details like cats named Kitty and Levin.  The ‘Hugo’ of the title is Victor Hugo, the author Emily’s friend Marguerite is reading as she waits for the wedding at the B & B.  One of the nicer bits of the book is Emily’s bonding with Charlotte throughout the story – they are truly drawn together when she teaches the girl to knit and Charlotte takes to it like she was born to do it.  I really liked the characters and setting, and it did bring a tear to my eye when Moses and Charlotte’s situation was eventually resolved.  If the story was slight, the characters felt real to me and I was glad to have met them. — Robin Agnew