A young widow, orphan and mother, Wilhelmina Anne Brown is just beginning to find some stability in her new home in Prince Edward Island when she is forced to deal with the death of her beloved uncle, Bill Darby. Darby, a Charlottetown private investigator, leaves Anne and her fourteen-year-old daughter a small savings account and his business, where Anne has worked as office manager for six years. What follows is Anne's struggle to protect her family, find justice for her clients, and forge a new life for herself in this page-turning thriller.
Review by JoAnn Alberstat for the Chronicle Herald:
The Reluctant Detective by Finley Martin
Wilhelmina Brown, better known as Anne, is a widow and single mother who returned to Prince Edward Island a few years earlier to build a new life for herself and her teenage daughter.
But Brown’s quiet life is thrown into turmoil when her uncle, a Charlottetown private investigator, suddenly dies of a heart attack. Brown, who was his office manager, decides right away to keep the business and run it herself.
Her friends are skeptical about her plan but Brown, who has a background in insurance-claims investigation, feels she has enough experience to be a full-time sleuth.
She lands her first client easily enough: a wealthy widow who wants to know whether a British nobleman seeking funds for an African project is legitimate. But her second one, a clandestine money drop involving a suitcase full of cash, quickly becomes complicated.
Martin, a veteran P.E.I. poet and writer, uses his third novel to introduce a smart rookie investigator.
This Anne of the Island may be a diminutive, inexperienced gumshoe. But the slew of shady characters she’s soon forced to tangle with realize right away that she is one tough customer. Not to mention pretty handy with a pistol.
Martin’s heroine may have superhuman sleuthing skills, but she’s also a mom who wants to spend time with her daughter, has a boyfriend and enjoys pub nights with her friends.
The plot thread involving the money drop that goes bad winds up dominating the book. The charity case probe doesn’t get the attention it deserves, since it’s forgotten about early in the novel and isn’t picked up again until the end.
Another strong point is the summertime Island setting, whether it be the capital city’s historic downtown, seaside mansions and parks, or rural villages full of curious neighbours.
The book’s best feature is Brown, who is worthy of a sequel. She leads a charmed life and we, in turn, are enchanted by her.
Review by Jenni Mortin in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix:
There is no winter in Finley Martin's first mystery, unless you count the icy water that his reluctant heroine, Anne Brown, finds herself in as the book opens - but it fits with this group because all three books are cemented so solidly in their environments.
For The Reluctant Detective, that environment is Charlottetown and environs, the first mystery I have seen set in the Prince Edward Island capital, which is growing fast and has all the problems of a bigger city. "Anne Brown is not Anne of Green Gables," the publicity blurb warns.
Brown sadly takes over the private-detective business of her beloved uncle Bill Darby after his sudden death. Though she has worked with him, she has doubts about the move and so do her friends. She stands in for him in two cases, one involving a suspicious English lord who may be defrauding a local charity and the other, much more mysterious, requiring her to get a packed leather valise from one person to another. It's the second case that leads Brown deeper and deeper into trouble that also threatens her daughter and her friends.
Her courage, determination and wits are all challenged by the case of the valise and its contents, which make her a person of interest to the local police, the RCMP and the U.S. Secret Service, not to speak of the shady client, whose name she never learns. This is a fine beginning for Martin, who is better known as a poet and short story writer.
Review by Elizabeth Cran in the Guardian:
There are lots of good books, but few successes.
Successes can be defined negatively as books in which there is nothing to complain of and positively as books in which everything fits together — plot (if any), characters, setting, writing style.
Now Acorn Press has produced two quite different successes in a row. One, The Reluctant Detective, by Finley Martin ($17.95) is a thriller set in Charlottetown; the other, I Am an Islander, by Patrick Ledwell ($19.95) is a very funny collection of three-or-four-page sketches or commentaries.
Martin is the author of two other books, neither of which suggests a successful detective-story writer (one we haven't seen, so we may be wrong about it). Nevertheless, The Reluctant Detective starts with a literally chilling situation, and seldom lets up before the end.
Anne Brown, the young heroine, is a widow with a teenage daughter, who left (with good reason) her job as a claims investigator in Ottawa to work for her Uncle Billy, an ex-cop turned investigator.
When she arrives in Charlottetown, she finds her uncle is dead, and has left her the business and a few savings.
The story takes off from there, becoming a real page-turner. Though all ends happily, there is little or no sign of romance, but lots of the right kind of friendship. Most of the latter is provided by Ben, the Jewish detective, his wife, Sarah, Mary Anne, who runs the local pub, Dit, the local paralysed genius, and Delia McKay, a nice old country lady.
All these well-drawn, individualized characters feel like friends one might know.
The atmosphere and geography of downtown Charlottetown are so well delineated, the reader might be there.
Thanks to Martin for this really successful novel, which should be made available far beyond the Island.