Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Indian Pipes by Cynthia Riggs








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Mystery readers often wail that Agatha Christie didn’t write enough novels featuring amateur sleuth Miss Marple. Many of us search for a wonderful protagonist up to the wit and wisdom of that classic character. My introduction to one American version of Miss Marple came when I read the sixth Martha’s Vineyard mystery by Cynthia Riggs titled, “Indian Pipes,” and met ninety-two year old deputy sheriff Victoria Trumbull. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 20, pp. 131-138:


As the tribal chairman walked past the closed door of Peter’s office that same afternoon, she heard his voice raised at the visitor. She couldn’t make out what the visitor said back, his voice was too low, but she could hear Peter distinctly.

“That butterfly,” she heard Peter say, “that butterfly was supposed to stop any consideration of the property.”

She stood in front of Peter’s closed door, wondering whether she should interrupt this or listen. Or move on and let them talk in pri­vate.

She had seen the man come in, a big heavy bald man with a black beard. Peter had shut his door behind the man, and the two had been closeted for more than an hour.

If it is tribal business, Patience thought, Peter should not be trans­acting it without me, the tribal chairman. She stood for a moment longer, undecided.

“All the more reason to scratch that last property from considera­tion,” Peter said.

Patience made her decision. She knocked on the door and opened it without being invited in. The bald man turned his head, and Peter, whose pale face was unusually flushed, stopped in what was obvi­ously midsentence.

“I beg your pardon,” Patience said with a polite smile. “I would like to see you in my office when you’re free, Peter.” She turned to the visitor, who stood up, a great tall hulk of a man, and held out her hand. “I’m Patience VanDyke, Peter’s boss. And you are?”

The visitor bowed slightly. “Michael Jandrowicz at your service.” His voice was gruff.

“Dr. Jandrowicz,” Peter said. “He’s a professor at Smith College.”

“Delighted,” Patience said politely. Bugs took her hand in his great paw. “Are you here on tribal business, Dr. Jandrowicz?”

Before Bugs could answer, Peter said, “He’s here to see me, Pa­tience.”

“On tribal business?” Patience said again.

“Regarding the casino sites. Yes,” Bugs said in his raspy voice.

“Then I will join you.” Patience moved one of Peter’s chairs to the side of his desk, where she could establish her right to authority.

“Please sit,” she said to Bugs. “Would you care to fill me in, Peter? Or shall I ask Dr. Jandrowicz.”

“This is none of your business, Patience.” Peter had to turn to look at her.

“I think it is my business.” Patience smiled and turned to Bugs. “You undoubtedly have heard that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah, is exploring the possibility of building a casino here on tribal lands.”

Bugs nodded.

“It is important that discussions not be carried on outside the tribe. I’m sure you can understand why.”

Peter swiveled in his chair suddenly and looked out the window. An antique Indian Chief Blackhawk motorcycle was next to Chief Hawkbill’s Cadillac in the parking lot.

“Why don’t you tell me about it, Dr. Jandrowicz. I’m sure Peter would prefer that you do the talking.” Patience crossed one leg over the other and smoothed her skirt.

Peter kept his back to them.

Jube Burkhardt, a consulting engineer for the governor’s office, contacted me.” Bugs stopped and looked questioningly at Patience, who nodded. “I had published an article in a popular science maga­zine on the butterflies of Martha’s Vineyard, which Mr. Burkhardt had read.”

Peter swiveled his chair until he faced them. “We don’t have to go through all this again.”

“I think we do,” said Patience, and turned back to Bugs. “Go on, please, Dr. Jandrowicz.”

“Mr. Burkhardt was quite knowledgeable about butterflies, for a layman. He asked me questions about endangered species found on the Island. He wanted to know if my students or I had made an in­ventory of butterflies in Aquinnah. I told him we had not, but my students had made a superficial survey of Island butterflies, covering every month of the year.”

“Winter, too?” Patience was interested, even though she was not sure where this was leading. “You don’t mean to say you found but­terflies during the cold months?”

“Every month except January,” Bugs said.

Peter sighed loudly and looked at his watch.

Patience glanced at Peter, then at Bugs. “Why was Mr. Burkhardt interested in endangered butterflies? I think I can guess, but I’d like to hear what you have to say, Dr. Jandrowicz.”

“He asked me if we had found any Compton tortoiseshells in Aquinnah. I told him it was unlikely. The habitat is not suitable. Then he asked if the habitat was suitable for variegated fritillaries. I told him it was, however, we had not found any in Aquinnah. They are quite rare throughout Massachusetts.” Bugs stopped and looked at Peter. “Do you want me to continue?” he asked.

Patience answered. “Yes, please. I would like you to continue.” She smoothed her wide skirt over her lap.

“Mr. Burkhardt e-mailed me last month to say he had found two variegated fritillaries on a twenty-five-acre site south of State Road.” Bugs looked at Patience. “You understand that would be a significant find.”

“Enough to take that property out of consideration as a casino site, I gather,” Patience said.

Peter stood. “This conversation is going nowhere.” He looked at his watch. “I’ve got another appointment.”

“I think not,” said Patience. “I suggest you call to cancel your ap­pointment. We’ll wait, Dr. Jandrowicz and I, while you do so.” She folded her arms over her ample bosom and Peter sat again.

“Quite definitely,” Bugs said. “Finding an endangered species stops development until the state makes a survey.”

“Did you follow up on the two butterflies?”

“That’s one reason I’m here. Burkhardt’s alleged finding of the two fritillaries happened to coincide with a motorcycle rally here on the Island that I wanted to attend, a joint Indian and Harley-Davidson get-together.”

“And you met with Mr. Burkhardt?” Patience asked.

“He escorted me to the location and showed me two specimens of fritillaries on the ground, dead, obviously preserved, and obviously from someone’s collection.”

“And what did you do?” Patience leaned forward.

“I told him they were planted specimens, and left.”

“Did Mr. Burkhardt tell you who had hired him to search that par­ticular site?”

“He said nothing to me.”

Patience turned to Peter, who was doodling circles within circles on his desk calendar. “Did Mr. Burkhardt come to you, Peter, before that last tribal meeting?”

Peter looked up defiantly. “Yes. He said he had found an endan­gered species on the property that seemed to be the only suitable site for the casino, and suggested we talk about it. We never got a chance to.”

“Had he told you what kind of endangered animal or plant he’d found?” Patience asked.

“Butterflies,” Peter answered sullenly.

“Mr. Burkhardt knew you were lobbying for a floating casino, didn’t he?”

Peter nodded.

“Had Mr. Burkhardt proposed that money change hands if he was able to hold up or stop consideration of a site on tribal lands?” Pa­tience asked.

“I can’t answer that,” Peter said.

“Can’t or won’t?”

Bugs answered for him. “Mr. Burkhardt offered me a considerable sum of money, enough to fund a survey of the area, to verify that he had found the two specimens on the site. I refused.”

Patience raised her eyebrows and looked from Peter to Bugs. “Where did Mr. Burkhardt get enough money to throw around in such a way?”

Peter turned and stared out at the parking lot and the Indian parked by the white Cadillac. A ray of sunlight reflected off the In­dian’s bright pipes and shone on Peter’s high cheekbones.

“It’s a beautiful bike,” Peter said.

“Other companies build motorcycles,” Bugs quoted. “We man­ufacture dreams.’ That was the Indian Motocycle Company’s motto.”



Victoria stood next to the dining room table, her back straight. “I am staying in my own house, Howland, and that’s final.”

Late afternoon sun glistened in the imperfections and bubbles of the old glass panes of the west windows. Dust motes danced and sparkled in a beam of light that angled across the floor, spotlighting a worn place in the carpet.

At her insistence, Dojan had taken Victoria home and was stand­ing behind her, holding her cloth bag.

“You’ve got to stay away for a couple of nights, at least.” Howland thrust his hands into his pockets.

“You’re being ridiculous. The computer isn’t here—where is it, by the way?”

“Locked in the back of my car with a blanket over it.”

Victoria nodded. “And there’s nothing I know that everybody else on the Island doesn’t know.”

“There’s a killer loose, Victoria. We don’t know who it is or why Burkhardt and Hiram were killed. Until we have some answers, you’re not safe.”

“That’s absurd.” The wrinkles of Victoria’s face set stubbornly She pulled out one of the side chairs at the table and sat. She smoothed the tablecloth absently.

“Listen to me.” Howland’s eyes glittered. “The state police are on the case. They came in late and have to catch up. They haven’t iden­tified the body from the fire yet.”

“It was Hiram.”

“You and I believe it was Hiram, but the police have to go through procedures. In the meantime—”

Victoria interrupted. “Where’s Linda? I haven’t seen her all day. She hasn’t heard about our finding Hiram.”

Victoria . . .”

“I will not leave my house, and that’s that.” Victoria turned to Dojan and pointed imperiously to the cookroom. “Put my bag on the cookroom table, please, Dojan.”

Dojan slipped past Howland and padded through the kitchen.

“I don’t know where the hell Linda is, and I don’t care,” Howland snapped.

“Would you like a glass of sherry?” Victoria asked. “It’s been a trying day. If you’ll reach into that door in the buffet, you’ll find a de­canter and—”

“No, thank you.” Howland’s cheekbones had a flush of red across them. He marched out of the dining room into the kitchen and stood by the entry door until Dojan joined him.

“I’ll talk to you outside,” he barked at Dojan.

Victoria had risen from her chair. “Don’t think you’re going to guard me, Howland, you and Dojan. I’m quite capable of calling 911, and the police station is right down the road. Besides, Elizabeth is here.”

Howland glanced through the dining room into the front hall, then turned toward the cookroom. “Where is she?”

“She’s out. She has a dinner date.”

Kee-rist!” said Howland.

A blue car pulled into the driveway. “Here’s Linda now,” Victoria said. “She’ll be here. You may leave now.”

Linda stepped out of her car, a blue cardigan slung over her shoul­ders. “Hello, Mrs. Trumbull,” she called out. She looked curiously at the two tall men who had walked past her without a word.

Victoria turned and gestured to Howland, who was seated in his station wagon—part wave, part dismissal, and part a regal acknow­ledgment that she was in command.

Linda came into the house with both arms full of shopping bags and pulled the entry door shut with her foot. “Who are those strange men?”

“Are they still there?” Victoria filled the teakettle and set it on the stove. As Linda moved close to her, Victoria smelled patchouli and sneezed.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Trumbull. I wasn’t thinking.” She set her pur­chases down on the captain’s chair. “I’ll wash my face and wrists.”

She returned, scrubbed free of scent. Victoria asked, “Have you found your sister yet?”

“She’s camping in a field not far from here. The police told her where to find me.”

The teakettle whistled, and Victoria filled the teapot and carried it into the cookroom. Linda followed with the blue-flowered cups. “I thought I might see you at your uncle’s place today,” Victoria said.

“I haven’t been on the Island for at least ten years. I went shop­ping in Edgartown and had lunch in Oak Bluffs. I met someone I knew in Vineyard Haven.” She finished vaguely, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to see the old place.”

“Oh?” Victoria sipped her tea, narrowing her eyes in the steam. A cricket started to chirp. The sound seemed to come from all four cor­ners of the room.

Linda spoke into the cricket-loud silence. “When we were chil­dren, we stayed with my uncle every summer.” The cricket abruptly stopped chirping. “Then, I don’t know, things changed.”

“They do that. Change.”

“You went there this morning?” Linda asked brightly, switching the subject.

Victoria nodded. “There’s not much left.”

“Is the barn still standing?”

“Yes. The fire was confined to the house. All that’s left is the chim­ney, charred wood, and bundles of papers.”

“Was that all?” Linda asked, eyes wide over the rim of her cup. “Everything gone?”

“They found mattress springs, door hinges, the kitchen stove, non­burnables. Also, they found the charred remains of his computer.”

“Was the computer salvageable?”

“I would guess not, but I don’t know much about computers. The outside was burned and the plastic fittings on back were melted.”

“My uncle wrote me notes at Christmas. Then when he got the computer, he’d e-mail practically every week. He used it for every­thing, correspondence, records, bills.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I suppose it had a copy of his will on it?”

Victoria said nothing.

“Did the police take it?”

Victoria held the teapot over Linda’s cup. “Would you like more


“Thank you. Did….”

Victoria stood suddenly. She didn’t want to discuss the computer. Nor did she want to discuss Burkhardt’s will. As if she had remem­bered something, she said, “I’ve got to make a phone call. I’ll be right back.” She went into the dining room and dialed Howland. She knew he hadn’t had time to get home yet, but she wanted to stall long enough to think. She waited until his answering machine came on, said the first thing she could think of into the phone, and hung up.

She returned to Linda. “No answer. I’ll try later.”

“Did they find anything else at my uncle’s?” Linda asked. “Evi­dence of arson or something?”

Victoria toyed with her cup. “I’m afraid they did find something.”

“Oh? What did they find?”

“The remains of a body.”

The color suddenly washed out of Linda’s face, like a shade pulled down. She turned ash-gray. “Someone died in the fire? That’s... that’s horrible. That’s awful.” She stood up, knocked over her teacup, which skidded across the table, fell to the floor, and broke. She set both hands flat on the table and hung her head down.


Mystery readers are likely to enjoy Indian Pipes, and now that I’ve met Victoria Trumbull, I’m more likely to read another book in this series.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the September 2006 issue of Executive Times


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