St. Caro, an irenic patch of sea-girt earth, a minor stone in the jewelry case of U.S. Caribbean possessions, doesn’t exist. Still, it’s just the right place for a murder. Swaying coconut trees, calypso rhythms, intimations of voodoo (called “obeah” in these parts), an unforgiving sun, and the forgiving darkness of sweet island nights—these form an exotic, Eden-like backdrop for homicidal intrigue among a set of pampered, peevish tourists from the mainland. The tourists are white, of course, and their interactions with native Carovians tingle with racial tensions that often carry a sexual overtone as well. Dead at the outset of this tale is Carl Lattner, an arrogant bigwig who made his money back in Cleveland and who made many a female heart break here on St. Caro. Clues found near the corpse, including the ornamental machete that caused a gash in Lattner’s neck, point to David Maubee, a local petty thief and a grand lover of woman in his own right. Maubee haunts the island as a kind of folk hero, and he haunts the mind of Police Chief Xavier Brooke as a kind of alter ego. Brooke comes to believe that they are both pawns in a white man’s game, especially after the island’s governor orders him to stop pestering the tourists with questions and to focus solely on bringing Maubee to justice. Brooke presses on, though, warding off bureaucratic predators and hacking through a dense underbrush of motives, alibis, and red herrings. Carr’s account of that investigation is a masterpiece that blends salty humor with piquant social observation, a formal detective puzzle with a narrative that draws on the best traditions of liberal humanism. The search for Maubee ends in a way that suggests a possible sequel. Alas, there was none: Carr died before he could exercise his literary voodoo again.
[ADDENDUM: My efforts to find anything online about Finding Maubee came almost to naught. Pretty much every link offered by Google relates not to this book, but to the 1989 film adapted from it. Titled Mighty Quinn, the movie features Denzel Washington in the role of Xavier Brooke (here renamed Xavier Quinn, for no apparent reason beyond that of echoing the title of a completely unrelated Bob Dylan song). I watched the film on DVD a while back, and found it to be a pleasant trifle. It offers the swaggering presence of Washington, along with a wealth of sun-ripened Caribbean scenery, but it mostly lacks the acute intelligence and narrative subtlety of the original story.]