If It Wasn’t For the Money

6 January 2021

If It Wasn’t for the Money: A Sam Anderson Mystery
by J.A. Martine
Published by Wood Dragon Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.99   ISBN 9-781989-078341

If It Wasn’t for the Money: A Sam Anderson Mystery, by Saskatchewan author J.A. Martine – aka business writer Jeanne Martinson – is a rather delectable novel, in more ways than one. The story concerns twin sisters who’d inherited “bloody millions,” their down-on-their-financial-luck husbands, the adventurous magazine writer Sam Anderson (who possesses an interesting, lottery-related back story), and an initially clownish retired Regina cop, all of whom we meet on an Alaska-bound cruise ship. Smooth sailing? Oh no … this is a mystery, after all. 

The characters are well-drawn – especially Sam, who leads photography workshops on the ship and rappels down a rockface for a travel story – and plausible, and as the author employs multiple points of view, readers are able to enter into each of the major character’s concerned minds. 

Martine explains that the lavish fictional ship, the “Sea Wanderer,” is an amalgamation of Alaskan cruise ships she’s obviously had experience with, as I could easily imagine “the grand lobby with its elegant multi-level staircase,” the “[buzzing] excitement of the first-time passengers,” and the 800-guest capacity “Olympus Restaurant,” where “servers, sommeliers, and busboys were streams of white ribbons in their formal uniforms.”      

The author’s structured the cruise portion of the novel into sections that begin with the dining room’s three menu options, and they are grand, ie: on Day 3, one might enjoy “Steak Diane with Pont Neuf Potatoes and Cognac Mushroom Sauce,” while on Day 5 “Roast Gressingham Duck, Apple and Cranberry Savory Stuffing” is being served. She continues with these succulent menu listings as the characters eat, shop, sight-see, gamble, connive, and reconnect later in New Orleans – approximately the last third of the book takes place in the historic, music-filled city, and Martine brings it to life. In the “Spotted Cat Music Club,” with its “roughed-up bar running the length of the long and narrow room, mismatched bar stools” and “air conditioning [pumping] out barely cooled air into the packed room”, Sam warmly notes the sign above the piano: “No drinks or drunks on the pianee.” From a marketing perspective, it’s ingenious to use actual restaurants, bars, and hotels in a novel, as not only might readers seek out these cherished, specific establishments, but the businesses may also be amenable to selling the book onsite.

The plot kicks into high gear when twin Kathleen, the introvert with bruised arms, goes missing after a port-of-call in Juneau, and her greedy husband, Daniel, is suspect. He’s been involved in “pump and dump” deals: “He invests in penny stock junior resource companies that are being aggressively promoted. Once the share prices rise 10 or so cents, he dumps them. He plays with other investors who do the same thing.” Daniel’s brokerage firm is close to bankruptcy, and if – just for starters – he can get his hands on half of his wife’s insurance policy, it would placate “the boys” he’s indebted to. 

It was a pleasure to meet Sam Anderson et al. Readers will meet her again – perhaps in Banff? – soon. 


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