Book Review: “Hook, Line & Sinister,” edited by T. Jefferson Parker

I fish. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. Some years I never drop a line in the water at all. But I enjoy fishing, and I enjoy mysteries. T. Jefferson Parker’s book, Hook, Line & Sinister: Mysteries to Reel You In, brings the two together beautifully.

In Hook, Line & Sinister, Parker brought together 16 mystery authors (including himself) who enjoy fishing, and created a book to raise money for two support groups. Casting for Recovery is for women with breast cancer (Why does it seem that all breast cancer groups are only about women? Men get it too!). The other group, Project Healing Waters, is for veterans. As their mission statement says, their aim is “to assist in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings.”

Each of the stories has fishing as a major plot point, and in most of them it is directly related to either the motive, method, or solution to a murder. As with most anthologies, there are a few weak stories, but there are some great ones in there as well. Some were very dark, others downright funny.

Probably my favorite was Cutthroat, by Mark T. Sullivan. If I ever approached an author and asked for a fishing-oriented murder mystery, I would hope to receive something like this. The plot is solid, the writing is excellent, and the fishing is woven inextricably into the storyline. When I finished the story, I felt satisfied. The bad guy got what he deserved, and (aside from the poor dead guy) it was a happy ending for all.

There are stories in the book that don’t end that way, though. Death by Honey Hole, by Victoria Houston, has a deliciously complex plot for such a short story. An experienced mystery reader will figure out whodunnit by the halfway point, but you won’t know how it ends until you finish it. Houston kept her options open. The last line is brilliant.

Two of my favorite Western mystery authors, Dana Stabenow and C J Box, have great contributions. They are classic mystery stories, and although they kept me guessing as I read, they wrapped up the loose ends at the end.

Andrew Winer’s story, Darmstadt, on the other hand, left me scratching my head. Granted, I’m not into the German death-metal scene, but I never really felt like I had a grasp on what was happening, and when I reached the end of the story, it felt unfinished. Clearly, this story is allegory, but I came up with a half-dozen possible interpretations of the message within ten minutes of pondering. I understand that some authors consider this their definition of success. If they make you think, they win. But if Winer was trying to make a point, I missed the point.

In any case, I give Hook, Line & Sinister a thumbs-up. If you are an angler who loves reading mysteries, pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did.

[I reviewed the hardback edition. The paperback is due out on September 19 of this year.]

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