‘Water Mark’ by J.M. Redmann
Author: Pamela Bigelow
November 11, 2010
This is the sixth in J.M. Redmann’s Micky Knight series. Once again, the author sets the mystery in New Orleans.
Knight has returned to New Orleans two months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city. She is fighting a serious depression brought on by the devastation Katrina wrought on the city and her soul. She had also found her partner of many years in the arms of another woman shortly before Katrina hit.
While she is trying to deal with her partner’s betrayal, she must also deal with the destruction of the city she loved. The city hasn’t begun to recover from Katrina: there are few traffic lights, the gas hasn’t been turned back on in her office, electricity is practically non-existent and the people who had fled New Orleans are slow to return. The destruction in the neighborhoods is overwhelming, as houses are barely standing, the flooding has caused widespread mold and fungus growth even on the floors that weren’t flooded; dead animals and, in some cases, dead bodies remain inside their ruined homes.
The question for Knight seems to be whether she and her city are going to make a comeback.
When Knight is hired by an elderly woman to retrieve a box full of mementos from the attic of the woman’s destroyed house, she knows she has to go into a neighborhood where ghosts roam, if only in her imagination. When she arrives at the woman’s house, a van full of teenagers drives up to a house two doors away. They head into the house, but come tumbling out almost immediately screaming and falling off the damaged porch. They say there’s a dead body in the house.
With Knight’s help, the group is split up with most of the kids going in search of an area where there are working phones or at least working cell towers to call for an ambulance. The group’s chaperone has broken his leg and a young man has badly sprained his ankle. The young man’s twin sister remains behind with him. When the ambulance finally arrives, the driver refuses to take the girl with them since she’s not injured. It is left to Knight to deal with her.
When Knight checks the dead woman, she knows that the woman wasn’t killed by Katrina, rather the woman died much more recently and by a human hand. With her curiosity piqued, Knight begins trying to find out who the dead woman was and why she was dumped in the house where she was found.
As the book progresses, Redmann tells an interesting tale as she begins to unravel the clues to the murder. The story, though, is too often lost in her character’s angst over losing her partner and the devastation of Katrina. The story of Knight’s return to New Orleans and her partner’s betrayal would have made a powerful story in and of itself, while the murder of the woman would have made for an interesting mystery. But the combination doesn’t work. Redmann’s telling of the two disparate stories doesn’t do justice to either.
If you are a reader who gets taken out of a story by the overuse of a word or by an SUV that turns into a van and then a truck and back to an SUV within the space of a few pages, or by being told that it is dusk and the sun is setting and then having the character walking into a room with bright sunlight streaming in through the windows, then be prepared to be stopped in your tracks time and time again.
Despite its flaws, this book deserves to be read by everyone who wasn’t directly touched by Katrina. Redmann tells what Katrina did to New Orleans and its people with emotions that are lacking in newscasts and newspaper reports. The reader will feel what it’s like to go back to a once vibrant city to find it so totally destroyed. The reader may begin to understand the heartbreak the people of New Orleans face when they return to their beloved city.