There will be more such books. Stuart has been a part-time resident for the past 32 years. His heroine, Janet Petrocelli, is a former shrink who owns a used-stuff store in a fictional burg called Sawyerville. Stuart says that his next mystery is already in the works. Look for his take on HITS (Horse Shows in the Sun), which he describes as “a faucet of gold” that has done a lot to put Saugerties on the (proverbial) horsey map.
Almost everything that happens in the book happens in the Hudson Valley. The author’s careful and vivid descriptions of recognizable places are one of the charms of the series. The local reader is left to compare his or her own sense of specific place with Stuart’s. “Phoenicia is a loose scruffy town that sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains,” Stuart writes early in Dead by Any Other Name. “There are streams at every other streetcorner, nothing is tarted up, the houses tend toward ramshackle, the place feels almost like a Western town in its lack of affect and cutesy gift shops.”
Petrocelli is not convinced that talented chanteuse Natasha Wolfson leaped to her death in the Devil’s Kitchen of Platte Clove. In her search for suspects, Petrocelli travels to Albany and Troy, deep west into Delaware County and to places along the Hudson River. She visits Woodstock, New Paltz, Poughkeepsie, Cold Spring, Esopus, Highland and Elka Park. Wolfson’s ashes are scattered by her sister from the heights of the Walkway over the Hudson.
An eccentric clump of Wolfson’s acquaintances, each a possible suspect, lives on Leggett Road in Stone Ridge. “I turned down Leggett Road – pow! I could have been over on the tony bank of the Hudson – big old estates, sweeping lawns, stables, this was la crème de la Ulster County.”
Deep characters with complex motives are not the strength of the book. The juice comes instead from the many zany, caricature-like personalities interacting fitfully within a tightly knit community setting. Petrocelli is no picaresque heroine, but a slightly world-weary, confused and acerbic wanderer puzzling over a Rubik’s Cube of a problem. Eventually she succeeds. There’s a key for almost every lock.
Author Stuart says that over the years, he has come to love the Hudson Valley more and more. It contains settings that resonate with him. And all of us can share the sense of recognition that he provides.
Also participating in this Sunday’s reading will be Barbara Pokras, a writer and film editor. Inquiring Mind Bookstore and Cafe is located at 65 Partition Street in Saugerties. For more information, call (845) 246-5775.