June 11, 2004
Many Cape Region golf fans headed north to Wilmington this weekend for the LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club.
For those who enjoy women’s golf with a slight twist, however, there’s another option waiting at local bookstores, in the form of the third installment in Roberta Isleib’s entertaining mystery series.
Putt to Death (Berkley Prime, $5.99 SRP) once again features the on- and off-course adventures of Cassie Burdette, a struggling young LPGA Tour pro.
It’s every bit as good as the first two, Six Strokes Under and A Buried Lie. The book also continues to explore a basic question I believe Isleib is working out through these novels–how does a professional athlete’s upbringing affect her performance in her sport?
This time, the action barely touches upon Burdette’s golf. Instead, the focus is on the faltering steps she begins to take to comprehend the impacts of her parent’s separation and divorce on her golf and on her relationships with both men and women.
In addition, of course, there’s an additional personality trait Burdette has to contend with—her knack for finding dead bodies, under conditions that make her a prime suspect.
What’s a young woman to do?
Seeking a safe refuge to salvage her faltering game, Burdette takes a job as the official “touring pro” for a decidedly upscale Connecticut country club.
Stony Creek CC is the kind of place one can sometimes catch a glimpse of while driving along the coastline highways of the Nutmeg State—beautiful golf landscapes with great views of Long Island Sound, an eight-year waiting list for new members, and unmistakable signs of old money on graceful display.
In addition, the place fairly seethes with old rivalries from real and imagined slights. Keenly felt emotions are not always kept in control, and at least one person is not above killing others.
Some of Isleib’s Connecticut-based readership will recognize a few of the personalities she deftly outlines in the story, although actually the types themselves are fairly universal. Isleib recognizes the social comedy potential in this material, and does a nice job in exploiting it. These parts of the book made me wish I could stand next to her at a large party, just to listen.
Meanwhile, Burdette struggles to answer the police inquiries as well as deal with the wide range of personalities on the club’s board of directors. She also manages to become involved in other raging controversies on the club’s seemingly bucolic grounds.
One member is pushing Stony Creek to sign up for the Audubon Sanctuary Certification program. Another member has the effrontery to suggest that women members should be allowed to use tee times on weekend mornings, along with other startling concepts from the 20th Century.
An assistant groundskeeper, with whom Burdette shares a small apartment on the Club property, needs no provocation to be at best abrupt with the young pro. The head golf professional, on the other hand, seems intent on sloughing off as much work as he can onto Burdette’s shoulders, while smiling all the time.
As if that’s not enough, Burdette learns that her father is coming east to visit, her maybe-boyfriend is going overseas to play in the British Open, and her best friend Laura will be doing the caddying she used to enjoy herself.
It’s all a bit much, so she finds a local shrink to help. On the other hand, Burdette’s suffers from her own bouts of immaturity and occasional lapses in judgment, and she’s slow to realize it.
Burdette is also a little dense when it comes to picking up on the clues that she is in increasing danger.
That last problem is pretty common to lead characters in mystery novels, isn’t it?
Fortunately, Burdette learns there are a few people on whom she can rely, as the book works its way to a satisfying conclusion. The final reckoning is not so telegraphed beforehand as to be obvious, and Isleib makes Burdette sufficiently intriguing that the readers will want her story to continue.
We’ll be waiting.