Tidewater Review - July 2013

Death at the Lighthouse

as reviewed by

Anne Stinson

Death at the Lighthouse by John Reisinger. Glyphworks Publishing. 250 pp. $14.95

John Reisinger is on a roll, churning out one after another of his accounts of forgotten crimes that happened on the Eastern seaboard nearly a century ago. To call his prose “churning” is inaccurate ~ he and his wife and research partner, Barbara, investigate every facet of the real-life cases they use as a framework for his series of crimes. They are all fictionally presented, but they actually happened in the roaring twenties.
Reisinger and his wife pored over the records of the trials and inserted the roles of the amateur detectives, Max and Allison Hurlock. To add to the excitement of Death at the Lighthouse, it happened in our neck of the Bay.
Prohibition tempted many local watermen into the lucrative trade of delivering alcohol from farmers’ hidden stills or from the big operators offshore with top-grade Canadian whiskey. Big money and an endless number of shallow creeks, inlets and hidey-holes around the Chesapeake Bay made perfect terrain for avoiding detection.
Local boats were accustomed to toting oysters to Baltimore and Annapolis in winter and tomatoes in summer. A switch to alcohol for a nighttime haul over familiar waters was no big shore. Trucks then moved the product to slake the thirst of Washington ~ including Congress and the White House.
It was inevitable that some players in the game got hurt. Or dead. Reisinger has found a broad field of mischief in that scramble for opportunity and untaxed revenue. Throw in a generous serving of chicanery and the stage is set for danger.
It must be noted from the outset that Reisinger uses a hefty number of characters, both good and bad guys, but he makes it easy for the reader to follow the story. The preface lists a cast for each group, those in St. Michaels, another batch in Crisfield, and a third group in Baltimore. This latter group provides some big surprises.
The next page in the preface provides a map (or chart) of the Bay in 1924, with only the major ports in the story. It shows where the alcohol is transported and Devil’s Elbow Lighthouse off Crisfield, the scene of the crime. The map is simple, but it imprints the setting in the reader’s mind.
Now that the stage is set, it’s time to open the book and shoo away anyone who might interrupt the pure pleasure of following Max and Allison pinning down the real killer(s). Oh, yes ~ Max is reluctant to become involved, but two of his friends are in danger of being tried (and maybe fried) for murder.
Max is friends with police officers and Coast Guard members up and down the Bay because he has solved cases that baffled the professionals so often that his friends and neighbors think he’s something of a genius where crime is involved.
Max hates the celebrity that comes with the praise. Especially when Allison teases him about it. He would gladly stay out of the fracas, but the previous day his waterman buddies, J.D. and No Whiskey (his proper name is Novitsky), stopped to talk to the lighthouse keeper, Jack Coleman. They told Max that something had to be very wrong. Coleman was edgy and worried about something while they were there. Not just worried ~ he seemed frightened.
The Coast Guard verified that J.D. and No Whiskey’s boat was the last one they had seen on the day of the murder. They were vigilant about patrolling the area since Crisfield was a notorious take-off point for alcohol bound for the market across the Bay. In addition, they are further stymied by a fast boat that is mysteriously able to completely disappear when the Coast Guard is on its tail.
Max accepts a ride with his friends to the lighthouse to see if any evidence would give him a clue into the murder. He notes that blood on the floor could not have come from the victim, who had no marks. A knife on the floor was obviously custom-made. And he wondered what was the purpose of a new antenna wire running from the living quarters up to the light at the peak of the tower?
In the meantime, Allison is writing a feature story for a magazine assignment. The core of her article will illustrate the arguments, pro and con, for communion with the dead. Her research includes a seance with the local spiritualist, so at the moment she’s not much of a fellow-sleuth with Max. When she becomes active in his case, her role fits her ability to get information from her women friends in know-it-all jobs: the library, the post office, the phone operator or just plain gossips. The seance frightens Allison, who feels it’s fake, but how does the spiritualist pull it off? Most of her clients are women wanting to contact a beloved dead person. Their reaction is one of great comfort.
Max isn’t making much progress in ferreting out the real criminal(s), so he plans a trip to quiz his contacts on the Baltimore waterfront. Alex wants to go with him to visit her parents in Roland Park, the new up-scale development in the northern part of the city. While she’s there, she schedules a seance with the famous spiritualist who taught the Talbot County spiritualist recently visited.
By a wonderful coincidence, Houdini is on stage with his magic act during their few days in the city. Both Max and Allison are eager to see the famous entertainer. They talk with Houdini after the show, and he is interested in Max’s inability to decipher the trick of the vanishing boat that has eluded the Coast Guard so successfully by blinding the pursuers. Houdini advises Max to follow the rules of all magic effects: misdirections and false assumptions will take the puzzled viewer off the track every time.
Aha! That’s the missing clue Max needed.
Allison is in on the action now ,as Houdini has illustrated how the spiritualists convince their followers that contact with their dearly beloved is genuine. Now Allison can wrap up her magazine piece and concentrate on Max’s need for a partner. Count on Reisinger to make her role a scary one befitting the scale of the murder, which is now two murders.
Thanks to Houdini, Max now knows how a large boat loaded with prime booze can seem to vanish into the night air. He has also figured out whose knife was on the floor and how the antenna wire was connected to the crime.
There’s no way I will spill the beans on the big finale. Read the book or miss a huge treat. If you enjoy the book as much as your reviewer did, you’ll want to read Reisinger’s previous two books in the series: Death of a Flapper and Death on a Golden Isle, both also available on Ebook.
Mark me down as a super-fan of the author. I predict that every lover of an exciting tale told well will agree.

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.