23.6.13

Philip Craig's Vineyard Stalker

If it is time for a summer vacation and you are unable to travel this year, journey by way of a good mystery novel to Martha’s Vineyard. Philip R. Craig’s Martha’s Vineyard mysteries have entertained mystery fans since 1989. Craig was not raised on the island but grew up on a small ranch in Colorado, one that had no electricity or running water (see his website for additional information about his life). What it did have, though, was plenty of books.

At Boston University, Craig earned an undergraduate degree in Religion and Philosophy, and an MFA in creative writing. He studied poetry with the American poet, Robert Lowell. For 34 years Craig taught English and Journalism to college students. He and his wife later renovated a shack at an old hunting camp on Martha’s Island, and became year-round residents in 1999 after he retired from teaching (Negri 2007). Like his protagonist “J.W.,” Craig became passionate about fishing, cooking, and sailing once he took up permanent residence on the island.

Craig’s death in 2007 was marked by an occasion perfectly suited to his life. His son wrote, “A celebration of Phil’s life was held on August 4th, 2007. Dad insisted that there be no eulogies, just a party with lots of food and good booze, and that’s what happened. His ashes were spread at sea in July of 2008 as per his (and J.W.’s) wishes.”

In the Vineyard mysteries, former Boston policeman, Jeff Jackson (familiarly known as J.W.), retires to the serenity of Martha’s Vineyard. The 18th Vineyard Mystery, Vineyard Stalker was published posthumously. The novel opens with real estate agent, Carole Cohen, asking J.W. to investigate mysterious events at her brother’s island home. J.W. camps outside Roland’s home at night and is shot by intruders with a stun gun. Shortly afterwards a body is found on Roland’s property and the case becomes much more complicated.

Although the plot is clever and the characters engaging, it is the ambience of the glorious surroundings that truly stands out. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King reminds us that “description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story,” and nowhere is this more true than in Vineyard Stalker (2000, 173). You will definitely want to visit Martha’s Island – if not even move to this paradisal oasis – after reading the novel. Vineyard Stalker combines action and suspense with the serenity of peaceful island pleasures.

Kirkus Reviews maintains that there is, “just enough island lore and recipes to please regional fans, leaving room for one of Craig’s better mysteries” (2007). Readers will agree.

Craig, Philip R. Vineyard Stalker. New York: Scribner, 2007.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000.

Negri, Gloria. “Philip Craig: Novels Offered Mystery and a Sense of Place.” The Boston Globe. May 27, 2007.

“Vineyard Stalker.” Kirkus Reviews. April 1, 2007.