With the arrival of warm weather and good fishing, life should be great for J. W. Jackson and his wife, Zee. Martha's Vineyard may be no Eden, but J.W. wouldn't trade it for any other place on earth.
Something's wrong, though. The morning newspaper brings an update on the case of the Headless Horseman, a headless and handless corpse found on a local bridle path six months ago. Such murders are rare on the Vineyard, and J.W. can't help but wonder if a killer is still wandering free on the island.
Something's wrong at home, too. Zee does her usual efficient job at the emergency room but with J.W. and the two kids she seems curiously distant. If she's going through the seven-year itch, J.W. will give her time. He loves her and hopes she'll soon remember that she loves him.
Meanwhile, J.W. gets a distraction in the form of Abraham Mahsimba, a mysterious man from Zimbabwe in East Africa. Mahsimba enlists J.W.'s help in the search for two ancient soapstone eagles, carved seven hundred years ago and spirited out of Africa in the 1960s. Mahsimba has followed their trail to the Vineyard. He'll pay what it takes to bring them home.
J.W. agrees to assist, though he doesn't know much about art. And he certainly doesn't anticipate what will happen when Zee meets Mahsimba. The man has a charisma that's hard to resist.
Nor can J.W. know that his search for the eagles will pit him against some of the most powerful figures in the Vineyard's art world, including some who would stop at nothing to add forbidden objects to their collections. And there's still the unsolved case of the Headless Horseman. Could the Horseman's death have anything to do with the eagles?
With the author's usual rich blend of suspense, fishing, food, and family, set against the invigorating backdrop of beautiful Martha's Vineyard, Vineyard Enigma is the perfect summer read from an acclaimed and much-loved author.
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March 09, 2003
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Excerpt from Vineyard Enigma by Philip R. Craig
Later I figured I got involved, and almost killed, for three reasons: the money, the case itself, and Zee's uncharacteristic detachment from the world we shared.
If you live on Martha's Vineyard you can always use more money, and the job interested me because it concerned works of art whose history caught my fancy. Most of all, though, I probably agreed to work for Mahsimba because, during an especially warm and lovely spring, Zee had become curiously spellbound and ethereal, like a teenaged girl.
Her dreaminess had continued on into June and had disconnected her from our normal family life. She was as efficient as ever at her work in the emergency room at the hospital, but she seemed lost in obscure thoughts when at home with the children and me, as though she were seeing the world with the eyes of one who had once been blind.
I had several thoughts about the cause of this, none having anything to do with the others. Perhaps she had relapsed into guilt over killing a Boston thug the year before, even though she'd done it to save herself and our daughter and had taken a gunshot in the process. Or maybe it was a sort of sustained spring fever. Or maybe she was experiencing some form of the seven-year itch. That wouldn't be too surprising, considering my own certainty of my limitations as a husband. But when I asked her the cause of her sea change, she only pressed her forefinger to my lips and wordlessly shook her head.
Whatever the cause of her enchantment, there seemed to be nothing I could do about it, so I determined to remain unchanged myself, to stay the man whose love had once given her joy, and to hope that it still did or would again, however dreamily removed from me she seemed to be for the nonce. When Mahsimba came into my life I was glad to accept a job that would oblige me to think of something else.
Before the phone rang, I was alone in the house. Zee was at work, the kids were in school, and the cats were off catting somewhere outside. I was finishing my morning coffee and reading the Vineyard Gazette's sixth-months-later story about the Headless Horseman.
That still-unidentified body had long since been placed in some mainland morgue or grave, but on the Vineyard its notoriety had lessened only slightly since the previous December, when an understandably shocked pony rider had discovered it beside a frosty bridle path up in West Tisbury. The equestrian connection explained half of the corpse's nickname, and its missing head accounted for the other half. It could have been called the Handless Horseman, for that matter, because the hands were missing, too, along with the corpse's clothes.