Archaeologist Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has dug herself a deep hole and she can't make her way out of it. As she struggles to recover from a shattering personal loss, she sees that everyone she loves is trying to reach out to her. If only she could reach back. Instead she’s out digging holes all over her home, the Florida island of Joyeuse.
In their old plantation home, Joe Wolf Mantooth is surrounded by familyFaye, the wife he loves; their toddler son he adores; and his father, who hasn't gotten around to telling him how long he's been out of prison or how he got thereyet Joe has never felt so helpless or alone.
Then a close friend at the local marina is brutally murdered, the first in a string of crimes against women that rocks Micco County. Joe, desperate to help Faye, realizes she is in danger from both her inner demons and someone who has breached the island’s isolation. Local law and environmental officials say they want to help, but to Faye and Joe they feel more like invaders. A struggling Faye reaches back over a century into her family’s history for clues. And all the while, danger snakes further into their lives, threatening the people they love, their cherished home, even the very groundsome of it poisonedbeneath their feet.
About the Author
Mary Anna Evans and the Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries have received recognitions including the Benjamin Franklin Award, the Florida Literature Award, the Mississippi Author Award in fiction, a writer’s residency from The Studios of Key West, and three medals from the Florida Book Awards. She holds degrees in physics and engineering, but she loves writing novels even more.
Read an Excerpt
A Faye Longchamp Mystery
By Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Mary Anna Evans
All rights reserved.
Fish know which docks are owned by people who are generous with their table scraps. In the evenings, they gather around wooden posts that vibrate with the footsteps of a human carrying food. They wait, knowing that potato peels and pork chop bones will soon rain from the sky. They race to skim the surface for floating bread crumbs. They dive, nibbling at each half-eaten hot dog as it sinks. When a restaurant, even a shabby dive where hungry people clean their plates, throws its detritus off one particular dock every night, fish for miles around know all about it.
On this night, the fish wait below a dock that has always offered a nightly feast. Tonight, they feel the vibrations of familiar feet. The food falls into the water, as always, and the sound of a stainless steel spoon scraping the bottom of a stainless steel pot passes from the air above to the water below. Everything is as it has been, until a sharp noise jabs into the water hard enough for the fish to hear it. The spoon falls.
The spoon is large, designed for a commercial kitchen, so it hits the water with a smack that can be heard both above and below the surface. A scream falls into the fishes' underworld along with the spoon.
A big pot, with food scraps still clinging to its inner surface, hits the water an instant later. Only creatures with the agility of the waiting fish could scatter quickly enough to avoid being hit.
After another heartbeat, something else falls among them, something bigger and softer. Soon there are two somethings, both with arms and legs and feet and hands, one that gurgles and another that leaves when the gurgling stops.
The thing that stays behind is a human body. As it settles in the water, tiny minnows nestle in the long hair that floats around it like seaweed. Catfish explore its ten long fingers with their tentacled mouths. None of them associate its two bare feet with the sprightly vibrations that had always signaled a rain of food.
Before long, predators appear, drawn by the smell of blood.CHAPTER 2
Joe Wolf Mantooth was worried about his wife.
Faye was neglecting their business. She was neglecting her health. He wanted to say she was neglecting her children, but it would kill her to think he believed such a thing, so he spent a lot of time telling that part of himself to be quiet. He also wanted to say she was neglecting him, but it would kill him to believe it, so he spent the rest of his time telling that other part of himself to be quiet. Or to shrivel up and die. Because if he ever lost Faye, that's what Joe intended to do. Shrivel up and die.
The children seemed oblivious to the changes in their mother. Michael, at two, saw nothing strange about her leaving the house every morning with her archaeological tools. She had always done that.
Amande was away from home, doing an immersion course in Spanish at a camp situated so high in the Appalachians that she'd asked for heavy sweaters long before Halloween. Faye had been too distracted to put them in the mail. Joe had shopped for them, boxed them up, and sent them off. Faye seemed to have forgotten that her daughter had ever said, "I'm cold."
Amande was perceptive for seventeen. If she hadn't noticed that Joe had been doing all the talking for the last month, she would notice soon. Lately, when faced with a call from her daughter, Faye murmured a few distracted words before pretending that Michael needed a diaper change. If Faye didn't come up with another excuse to get off the phone, Amande might soon call 911 and ask the paramedics to go check out her brother's chronic diarrhea.
Though Joe did speak to Amande when she called, surely she had noticed by now that he said exactly nothing. What was he going to say?
The closest thing to the truth was "Your mother's heart fell into a deep hole when she miscarried your baby sister, and I'm starting to worry that we may never see it again," but Joe was keeping his silence. Faye had forbidden him to tell Amande that there wasn't going to be a baby sister.
Was this rational? Did Faye think that her daughter was never going to fly home to Florida, bubbling with excitement over her Appalachian adventure and the coming baby?
If she did, it was yet more evidence supporting Joe's fear that Faye's mind wasn't right these days. Every morning brought fresh proof of that not-rightness as she walked away from him ... to do what? As best he could tell, she was carefully excavating random sites all over their island. If she'd found anything worth the effort, he sure didn't know about it.
In the meantime, Joe sat in the house, face-to-face with a serious problem. This problem was almost as tall and broad as Joe. His hair had once been as dark. His skin was the same redbrown, only deeper. This was a problem Joe had been trying to outrun since he was eighteen years old.
* * *
"Try this spot."
Faye Longchamp-Mantooth believed in intuition. It had always guided her work as an archaeologist. After she'd gathered facts about a site's history, inspected the contours of the land, and scoured old photographs, she always checked her gut response before excavating. Her gut was often right. It was only recently, however, that her gut had begun speaking out loud and in English. Lately, her gut had been urging her to skip the boring research and go straight for the digging.
"Have you ever excavated here before?" its voice asked.
Faye's answer was no.
"Then try this spot."
Every day, Joyeuse Island sported more shallow pits that had yielded nothing. Of course, they had yielded nothing. Faye had failed to do her homework. But going to the library or sitting at her computer would require her to be still and think. Thinking was painful these days, so she skipped it.
"Okay," she said, not pleased to see that she'd begun answering the voice out loud, "I'll give it a shot. But I don't think there's anything here."
Her hand was remarkably steady for the hand of a woman who'd been hearing voices for a month. She used it to guide her trowel, removing a thin layer of soil.
She would have known this old trowel in the dark. Her fingers had rubbed the finish off its wooden handle in a pattern that could match no hand but hers. Since God hadn't seen fit to let her grow the pointy metal hand she needed for her work, she'd chosen this one tool to mold into a part of herself.
Faye was working in sandy soil as familiar as the trowel. It was her own. She'd been uncovering the secrets of Joyeuse Island since she was old enough to walk, and she would never come to the end of them. As she grew older, she saw the need to mete out her time wisely, but she rebelled against it. The past would keep most of its secrets, and this made her angry.
Faye didn't know where to dig, because she didn't know what she was trying to find. It would help if the voice ever offered a less hazy rationale for ordering her out of the house. All it said was "You can find the truth. Don't let this island keep its secrets from you."
Her frenetic busyness was an antidote for the times the voice tiptoed into ground that shook beneath her feet. It crept into dangerous territory and then beckoned her to follow. It asked her to believe that she was to blame for the baby's death, for the mute suffering in Joe's eyes, for every tear Michael shed.
This was craziness. Two-year-olds cried several times a day. Men who had lost babies suffered. And there was rarely any blame to be handed out in the wake of a miscarriage, even late miscarriages that carry away a child who has been bumping around in her mother's womb long enough for mother and daughter to get to know one another.
Still, the voice said Faye was to blame, so she believed it. And it told her that it was possible to dig up peace, so she dug.CHAPTER 3
Joe had promised himself, time and again, that he would call his father, then he had let another year roll on. After he'd left home at eighteen, he'd thought, "When I get settled somewhere, I'll let him know where I am." But he'd wandered for years, working odd jobs and sleeping wherever he could pitch a tent.
He'd lingered so long in North Carolina, learning to flintknap from Old Man Kingsley, that he'd thought, "It's time. I need to call my dad and let him know I settled down." Then Old Man Kingsley died, which is what people with nicknames like "Old Man" tend to do, and Joe had taken to wandering again.
If Faye had kicked him off the island like she should have — why had someone with her brains let a vagrant camp on her island, anyway? — he would be wandering still. Instead, he'd acquired a wife who had never met her father-in-law, fathered a son who had never met his grandfather, and adopted a daughter who also hadn't met her new grandfather.
When they'd found out Faye was pregnant again, Joe had thought, "It's time," and he'd invited his father to spend Thanksgiving with them on Joyeuse Island and stay to meet his new granddaughter. Then he'd waited too long after the miscarriage to call him and ask, "Could you come another time?" So now Joe was stuck on an island with a wife who wouldn't talk to him, a father he didn't like, and a two-year-old. Happy holidays.
Sylvester "Sly" Mantooth didn't ask his son why his daughter-in-law left the house every morning. He didn't do much, really. Joe couldn't put his finger on the reason his father annoyed him so. The man just sat, coffee cup in hand, and talked the livelong day. He talked to Joe. He talked to Michael. He talked to himself, when Joe and Michael left the room and forced him to do that. He didn't say anything much, but he talked a lot.
Faye didn't seem to notice. Every afternoon, she came home empty-handed and avoided Amande's daily calls. She silently ate the supper Joe had cooked, letting Sly's endless words swirl around her. At dusk, she gave Joe and Michael distracted kisses before nodding at Sly, showering, and falling into the bed where she spent a lot of time not sleeping.
Joe had to do something. He didn't know what it was, but he had to do it. If this situation rocked along until Amande got off that airplane, lugging a huge teddy bear for the baby-that-wasn't, he wasn't sure his family would survive intact.
If Joe didn't know something was very wrong with Faye, he would have been angry. Okay, he was angry. But he would get over it.
Since Faye had stopped her obsessive monitoring of their finances — the normal Faye could pinch a penny in two and spend it twice, so what was up with that? — she hadn't noticed that Joe had been spending more money than he should at Liz's Bar and Grill. For the two weeks since Sly Mantooth's arrival, Joe had loaded his father and his son into the john boat every morning, as soon as Faye was out of sight, and he had pointed it toward the marina that their friend Liz owned and called home.
On every one of those mornings, he had savored the fact that the noise of the boat motor silenced his father by making conversation impossible. Once ashore, there were the very welcome, time-killing activities of carefully securing the boat and fueling it, before leading father and son into the grill. Inside, Liz's crooked grin and her peerless fried eggs made another sliver of the morning easier to bear.
The state of their budget said that Joe ought to stay home and fry his family's eggs himself. Except Joe didn't really know the state of their budget, since Faye had stopped balancing the checkbook. Playing short order cook would have saved him a few bucks, but his stomach roiled at the thought of sitting at the breakfast table with his absent-eyed wife, his toddler son, and the father who had never actually told him how long he'd been out of prison. Or why he'd been there in the first place.
Faye was doing her share to save on groceries. Every morning, she tucked a single banana in her work bag as she trudged across the island to do whatever it was she did these days. And every morning, before she'd even disappeared into the distance, Joe said, "Ready for some biscuits? Then get in the boat!" in the happy voice of a man looking forward to quality time with his father and son.
This morning, as always, Sly had answered, "Damn straight!" and Michael had run in circles yelling, "Bikkits! Bikkits!"
Joe always enjoyed that one moment of feeling like the family hero. It was totally worth thirty bucks for three breakfasts and a big tip. More than thirty bucks, actually, when he factored in enough fuel to get there. Still. Totally worth it. Also, Liz needed the money more than they did, if such a thing could be possible.
Twenty minutes after starting his boat's wonderfully loud motor, they arrived at the marina that housed Liz's Bar and Grill for the fourteenth time since his dad had stepped off the plane. The place had been seedy when Wally had owned it — actually, calling it seedy would have been generous — but Liz had poured her heart into giving the place a homey ambiance.
Joe understood how she felt. He'd grown up in ramshackle houses that were held together by duct tape and landlords' promises. Faye's plantation house on Joyeuse Island wasn't the home of his dreams. It was a home beyond his dreams. Joe felt like somebody had crawled inside his head to see the biggest and finest house he could imagine, then they had searched the world until they found something bigger and finer than that.
Faye loved the old house. It was her home. But, still, when she looked at it, she saw ancient plumbing and wall plaster that she would never finish patching.
Joe looked at it and thought, "I can't believe this is really ours."
Every square foot of Liz's business — the marina, the convenience store, the bar and grill, the dock, the grassy yard with its benches and picnic tables — showed the hand of a woman with only a little money but a lot of pride. She'd peeled up the sticky linoleum Wally had installed in the restaurant and store, and she'd put a multicolored epoxy coat on the concrete beneath. That floor was always as clean as her mop could make it. She'd painted the dark paneling a happy yellow, and Joe was damned if Liz didn't learn how to run a borrowed sewing machine so she could make curtains for the place.
She'd mowed the grass herself, from the back wall of the kitchen to the seawall where her dock stretched out into the Gulf. Joe didn't know how she'd scraped together the money to re-gravel the parking lot, but she'd managed it.
Liz Colton herself hadn't weathered the years since her son Chip's death nearly so well as her business had. Too much bourbon had added a little more grit to the plain-spoken redhead's voice. She waited too long to touch up her roots these days, and the white stripe through the middle of her long and bushy orange locks was not a good look for her. She was surly to most of her customers, except Faye and Joe, and Liz was in a business that depended on her good humor. People didn't want their fishing trips spoiled by a woman who called them stupid for buying the wrong bait. They'd begun buying their bait elsewhere, and also their ice and their gear, not to mention the fried flounder dinners that Liz had served them on those days when the fish weren't biting.
It didn't make sense to Joe that Liz was still nice to him and Faye. They'd watched her son die after he'd come damn close to killing them both, so Liz had to feel a jolt every time she saw them. Joe was pretty sure Liz only tolerated them because Michael's toddler grins made tiny moments of her life easier to bear. So she sucked it up and said nice things to Michael's parents, but she couldn't bring herself to say nice things to anybody else.
Every day, while Liz was cooing "Who's the cutest little black-haired boy in Micco County?" in her gravelly baritone, Joe was calculating just how much he could overtip without hearing her tell him to go to hell. And, for the last two weeks, every time he'd parked himself on one of Liz's barstools — which was every single freaking day — he was also wondering what in the hell he was supposed to say to his father.
Excerpted from Isolation by Mary Anna Evans. Copyright © 2015 Mary Anna Evans. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mary Anna Evans’ ninth Faye Longchamp Mystery begins on a somber note. Not only is one of her best friends murdered, but Faye is mourning another loss. Late in her pregnancy, she lost the baby girl she was carrying and will never be able to have another. Faye is distracted and absent even when in the same house as her family. She has isolated herself from her work, her husband Joe and even her toddler son Michael. As often happens, the loss of her loved one rekindled the desire to learn more about her ancestors. In Faye’s case, she is becoming obsessed with Cally Stanton, the former slave that was her great-great grandmother. Every morning Faye leaves her home to randomly dig holes around Joysuse, the private island that her family has lived on for decades. Cally actually lived in Joe and Faye’s home and Faye is convinced she can find more evidence of her ancestor’s slave days if she just keeps digging, both figuratively and literally. Faye doesn’t notice much of the world around her until one of her friends ends up dead. Her visiting father-in-law, now out of jail, is looking pretty suspicious. Joe is highly distrustful of the man who left his family years ago, but Faye isn’t really convinced he could have brought harm to the people she cares about. When Joe realizes Faye may be the next target of the murderer, he has to take action. Both to convince the Sheriff of the threat to his wife and to protect the woman he loves. Joysuse is the perfect place to isolate yourself from the world and your pain, but it can become a trap with a killer on the loose. This series is as fresh as an island breeze and the plot is as turbulent as stormy seas – the perfect balance for an outstanding mystery. The suspect list is not long, but each of them has reasons that are absolutely believable to have done the crimes. Each time I was convinced I figured it out; the next chapter made me question my deductions. The end was perfect for a mystery lover like me. It was full of breakneck action-filled suspense until the moment the killer was revealed. Faye Longchamp-Mantooth is one of my favorite fictional characters. She reacts like a real person would given the situations she finds herself in. Joe is her perfect mate; he is patient, loving and willing to give Faye the space she needs even though he is in mourning for his loss too. He is terrified he will lose Faye to the demons inside her or the killer. Evans is a master at showing the feelings of her characters. More than once I sniffled at the kindness and patience Joe exhibited towards Faye. When he cooked dinner for his wife, after she had not been eating for way too long was one of the sweetest interactions I have ever read. This is the second Faye Longchamp Mysteries I have read. I found both of them to be smart, engaging and captivating. It was easy to immerse myself in the story and lives of the characters. It is no surprise that Ms. Evans is an award winning author. She has multiple degrees, is a professor and musician. Lucky for me and all mystery buffs, she combines all of her research and knowledge to create fabulous works of fiction for us to enjoy. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review
There are some authors I know I can always count on to give me a good story, to take me away for just a few hours from the trials and tribulations of real life. They are the ones I always go back to when I feel the need for some familiarity, sort of like the old friend you haven't seen in a while but you suddenly have the urge to catch up. Mary Anna Evans is one of those authors for me and, once again, she brought a tale that engaged me from beginning to end. This time, Faye is keeping to home ground, literally, while she mourns a loss and retreats into herself to try to cope, not always very well. Her digging is aimless although she does have some purpose in mind but her husband, Joe, sees only the reclusive sadness that is tearing her apart. His own grief is more in the background and he has found his own sort of distraction in his father, a man he doesn't like much. Out of desperation, Joe has been taking his father to the local marina just so he doesn't have to talk to him and it's on one of those visits that they find their friend Liz floating in the water. Then Faye strikes something in one of those endless holes she's been digging and she and Joe soon find themselves surrounded by environmentalists and a lot of questions, especially since Faye's grandmother, Cally, might have had something to do with this potential disaster. Before Faye finds the answers she needs, another devastating loss could bring her to her knees. My affinity with Faye is a little odd because we really have very little in common, only a love of history and my own very fleeting thought, years ago, of becoming an archaeologist. It's a testament to Ms. Evans' ability to craft a living, breathing character---and not just Faye---that I feel compelled to keep up with Faye's life and her ongoing search for her own family history. In Isolation, Ms. Evans created a plot that's unique and intriguing but it's the people who continue to call me back. There are no disappointments here except that I have to wait endlessly for the next book.
I have enjoyed all the mysteries in this series. Mary Anna Evans tells a good story that is fun to read. Her writing is rich in characterization and side stories that both add to the mystery and bring the characters to life. I love the way she weaves science and history into her stories, and the sense of place she develops in the setting. Isolation meets that standard and does a bit of genre-bending; the story is a murder mystery with elements of adventure and thriller. I particularly enjoyed the mixing of genealogy/family history and the mystery of a barely hinted at “Monster Man” via the depression era WPA Writers Project. It also touches on a psychological mystery as it explores Faye’s depression and the reactions of her associates. I found it a gripping and very satisfying read, and highly recommend it.
This book opens on a Murder, which of course is a mystery. Who done it? But then the mystery grows. It becomes two mysteries, who killed Liz Colton, and who is Oscar Croft. Then more questions and mysteries come to us out of the past. A past that reaches out to us from all the way back to the Civil War. As the questions mount and the answers seem even further away the heart break of a lost pregnancy and an equally lost father /son relationship come to the surface. The stories and mysteries and characters lives are so well drawn in this book that I could hardly put it down. Each mystery leads to a further mystery which may or may not be related. The truths that come out, like in life, don't always make things better. Truth is in its own way healing. It allows us to put a period to all the questions. I sometimes does not provide us with the out come we would like but it does give us an outcome. Oral history, family tradition and archeology all come together to create an immersive novel that I would recommend to anyone fascinated by family and oral histories.
Mary Anna Evans in her new book, “Isolation” Book Nine in the Faye Longchamp Mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press gives us another adventure with Faye Longchamp. From the back cover: Archaeologist Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has dug herself a deep hole and she can’t make her way out of it. As she struggles to recover from a shattering personal loss, she sees that everyone she loves is trying to reach out to her. If only she could reach back. Instead she’s out digging holes all over her home, the Florida island of Joyeuse. In their old plantation home, Joe Wolf Mantooth is surrounded by family―Faye, the wife he loves; their toddler son he adores; and his father, who hasn’t gotten around to telling him how long he’s been out of prison or how he got there―yet Joe has never felt so helpless or alone. Then a close friend at the local marina is brutally murdered, the first in a string of crimes against women that rocks Micco County. Joe, desperate to help Faye, realizes she is in danger from both her inner demons and someone who has breached the island’s isolation. Local law and environmental officials say they want to help, but to Faye and Joe they feel more like invaders. A struggling Faye reaches back over a century into her family’s history for clues. And all the while, danger snakes further into their lives, threatening the people they love, their cherished home, even the very ground―some of it poisoned―beneath their feet. Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has experienced personal trauma. Because of this she has become withdrawn and has isolated herself from the world and her family as she tries to heal. Not only is Faye isolated but the island home is isolated and an invader has arrived and is killing women. Then there is the EPA who we do not know, really, what they are up to. I have not read the previous eight books in this series, I will correct that oversight, so until now I have never heard of an Archaeologist Investigator before. Faye is a very interesting character. I also do not believe I have read of an investigator who has experienced trauma before. Very unique. Both Joe and his father, Sly, are also fascinating characters that command your attention. “Isolation” is loaded with twists and turns and red herrings that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next. Ms. Evans has provided us with a fairly exciting book. I am glad I found this talented unique author and am so looking forward to the next book in this series. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Partners In Crime. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”