A Review of "Indian Pipes" by Cynthia Riggs

Oct 5, 2008

Murray, KY – Indian Pipes is a mystery set on Martha's Vineyard , featuring a 92-year-old amateur detective named Victoria Trumbull. The mystery surrounds two murders that seem to be related to the attempt of the Wampanoag tribe to build a casino on Martha's Vineyard . It's thus a timely mystery, written by Cynthia Riggs in 2006, just before the Massachusetts legislature defeated a bill to permit Indian gaming. The Indians, of course, insist on sovereign immunity from state laws, but the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 gave states powers in this area that they would not normally have.

The book is also an example of what some mystery fans are beginning to call geezer lit: books whose main characters or more specifically whose detectives are senior citizens. Some examples of geezer lit pointed out in a recent AARP Bulletin article are Mike Befeler's Retirement Homes Are Murder, Parnell Hall's The Sudoku Puzzle Murders, and Rita Lakin's Getting Old Is to Die For . I think Michael Dibdin may have anticipated this mystery subgenre in 1993 when he wrote The Dying of the Light, about a murder in an English nursing home and the woman who solves it, who is one of the inmates.

Indian Pipes has good writing and plenty of plot complications. A biker rally is being held the weekend of the book's action, and one of the murdered men is known to hate bikers, because his favorite niece has a black biker lover. A town engineer who opposes the Indian casino is blackmailing his gay former lover. Riggs likes to defeat conventional expectations: she depicts very strong women characters, clear-headed older folks, and here, the head of the biker rally is a butterfly-loving college professor.

Cynthia Riggs titles her book with the names of plants, I suppose because her detective, Victoria Trumbull, is a gardener. The Indian Pipes of this book, her sixth in this series, are flowers rather than ceremonial peace pipes, and her other books have titles such as The Paperwhite Narcissus and, perhaps inevitably, Deadly Nightshade, which was Riggs's first book.

Victoria solves this one by laying a trap for the killer, after enlisting the aid of the younger woman who's the village police chief and of a fisherman who is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe. When I imagine Victoria , she looks like my 93-year-old mother-in-law, who's lost some short-term memory, but who still has all her mental chops. I suspect that Cynthia Riggs calculates that all her readers will have a sharp nonagenarian to cast as her detective when they replay the plot in their minds' eye.