The Corpse with the Crystal Skull by Cathy Ace
Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Book Nine in the Cait Morgan Mysteries sees the Welsh Professor of Criminal Psychology celebrating her fiftieth birthday on the stunning island of Jamaica. Along with Cait are her retired Vancouver police officer husband, Bud, and their friends Jack and Sheila—all law enforcement alumni. Another old friend, John Silver has brought along his pompous, petulant, and irritatingly narcissistic younger girlfriend, Charlotte, whose father hails from the British House of Lords. The three men are seniors and unfit, which makes them rather comical characters when we discover their true careers and purpose on the island.
Cathy Ace won a Bonnie Blythe award for Best Canadian Light Mystery in 2015 and was nominated for a second in 2017. I mention this because, not only is her writing first-rate, it’s a tongue-in-cheek series featuring a corpse in every title. When I picture a crystal skull, that passionate, yet light-hearted, adventurer Indiana Jones comes to mind, and in fact, this book can claim a touch of that levity. In Jamaica, there are two—corpses that is. But only one crystal skull—a coveted item from Sir Henry Morgan’s buried treasure. Morgan, whose history Ace researched for the story, was granted land on Jamaica where he built an estate and, it was rumoured, buried treasure. Ace is a detailed visual writer and her descriptions of Morgan’s 1680 tower house built of stone, iron, and wood, are clear and intriguing. Did he really build it for his mistress or did he have something else in mind?
It’s obvious that Cathy Ace has considerable fun writing and researching her books—this one she wrote on a cruise ship during the pandemic with her very “Buddish” husband. Ace writes particularly clear, detailed, descriptions of her eccentric characters whose speech patterns and dialects stand out. Cait despises the ridiculous Charlotte AKA “Lottie” who she deems “merely decorative.” Cait and Bud are vulnerable and complex which is what makes us sympathize and root for them.
So, we have a locked room murder to solve; a protagonist who is a criminal profiler and amateur detective; a victim who hoarded treasure on what may very well have been Henry Morgan’s estate; and a dash of political intrigue. Freddie Burkinshaw, an eccentric octogenarian who once hosted parties in the 1960s attended by Noel Coward and James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, is discovered dead in the locked room at the top of his tower. To add to this fun, Cait’s husband and his two cronies are sometimes bumbling, and extremely human, secret agents. Tight-lipped but politically connected all the same. In fact, the Jamaican holiday is not so much to celebrate Cait’s fiftieth as to provide cover for this secret service trio’s latest assignment. It’s enough to inspire me to start reading the James Bond Literary Series which was penned over twelve summers at Ian Fleming’s Jamaican home.
I spent a month in Jamaica many years ago, but my mind was drawn back to the landscape with Ace’s mention of iconic Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril. If you’re desperate for some armchair travel this winter, this book will take you there.
The plot is tight, the characters diverse, and Cait’s big reveal ties all loose ends together with a big pink psychological bow. This is, after all, her forte.
Cait’s first-person narrative is quippy and intelligent, her candid voice as strong as her will. For example, when she sees Lottie’s “gratingly lithe back wriggling about beside the fruit plates,” it spoils her breakfast. Perhaps, Cait’s gut response to Lottie is correct? She is, after all, a criminal profiler.
If you like cozy and light, with a dash of adventure, intrigue, and historical web-weaving, this crime novel is for you.
Ace tells me that her Cait Morgan Mysteries have just been optioned for television and they’re going through key casting. Hoorah! I wonder who will play Cait and her charming secret agent husband, Bud?
The Corpse with the Crystal Skull is published by Four Tails Publishing.