James Fisher Reviews a Tightly Woven Mystery/Thriller
Helen C Escott
Operation Masonic is Helen C Escott’s latest crime thriller and it is a very good one.
A man has been found dead inside the old Masonic Temple in St. John’s. The deceased, it turns out, is Mortimer Williams, the current Grand Master of the new Masonic Lodge, the old Temple having been sold to a theatre company.
Even more mysterious is that the deceased was dressed in his Grand Master regalia. Why was he in the old temple, and why dressed like this on the night of a major snowstorm? The immutable Inspector Nick Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is called in to head up the investigation.
We have met the Inspector in Escott’s previous novels. He is a likeable protagonist.
As a break from the dramatic storyline, the reader is given a peek into his domestic life with his wife Maria and their two young girls. Nick suffers from PTSD, particularly during the nights when his dreams are haunted by all the past atrocities he has witnessed in his career.
A new character, Constable Donna Whiffen, has just been transferred to the Major Crime Unit and her home life is quite stressful, dealing with a grown non-verbal autistic son and her stay-at-home caregiving husband. They are in desperate need of respite care.
Escott has created a diverse cast of characters, all who have something to gain from the death of the charitable businessman Morty Williams. They range from his overbearing wife, to the odd next-door neighbours to Morty’s estranged brother to a local historian who is certain all the churches in St. John’s Ecclesiastical Circle are joined by underground tunnels.
Supposedly, only the Grand Master of the Masons has a map that shows this to be true. As I said, everyone has a motive, and this makes for one of the toughest cases Nick has come up against.
“A lot going on there, isn’t it? But according to the wife, he was a happy-go-lucky guy who helped everyone. Loved everyone. Was a rich penny-pincher but was good to his employees.”
“Then why didn’t the brother like him?” asked Whiffen.
“Good question. That’s what I need to find out.”
“He raised money for sick kids. Donated to charity. You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy,” offered Whiffen. “Who would want to kill a guy like that? Is he worth more dead than alive?”
Myra raised an eyebrow. “He was well off, according to his wife. Owned a chain of coffee shops. Lives in a big old mansion. I wonder what his insurance policy payout is.”
“You think it’s the wife?”
Myra chuckled. “Oh, it’s the tale as old as time, isn’t it? Follow money. It’s the first step in any investigation.”
“Oh, come on,” Whiffen playfully teased. “Why do you always suspect the wife first?”
“Because the wife always has means, motive, and usually a good reason. I may not agree with murder, but I perfectly understand it.”
This is a tightly woven mystery/thriller with enough red herrings and mysterious goings on to make this a page turner in the truest sense. The addition of the mysterious Freemason society (“it’s not a secret society, it’s a society with secrets”) adds intrigue and a touch of history, as St. John’s Masonic Temple is a registered heritage structure, and one of the most significant brick buildings in North America.
Escott has certainly done her research for Operation Masonic and the result is a crime thriller that any fan of the genre will appreciate.