HIGH SEASON By Jon Loomis St. Martin's Minotaur. 286 pp. $23.95
In Jon Loomis's fiction debut, it's High Season on Cape Cod, and in freaky-deaky Provincetown, things are even freaky-deakier than usual. The corpse of homophobic evangelist Ron Merkin (think real-life anti-gay minister Fred Phelps) is found on a beach, dressed in drag. Laconic sheriff Frank Coffin is faced with a media storm when a few other bodies crop up, possibly threatening the tourist trade. Then there's Coffin's louche uncle, who reappears in the resort town after a mysterious absence of many years. Is he connected to the murders, or is he there to help?
Coffin is an enormously appealing invention, a traumatized former homicide detective in Baltimore now working the (normally) quieter streets where he grew up. P-town proves a plum setting for lighthearted crime, with its frenzied real-estate wars, its 24-karat oddballs and its inexhaustible supply of "tall ships," the heterosexual transvestites who vacation there with their stoic wives. (The Rev. Merkin himself feels shoehorned into the mystery, but his flamboyant demise in a dress catapults the story into action from page one.) Along the way, Loomis, a prize-winning poet in his other literary life, tosses off some wonderful descriptions (sunflowers like "bright prehistoric showerheads," laughter hanging in the air "like a small but lethal cloud of poison gas"), yet none of his wordsmithery gets showy or interferes with this debonair, dry little mystery. With his honed sense of humor and keen mise en scene, Loomis is a keeper, and so is Coffin. Puckish Provincetown innkeepers would do well to tuck this one away in the guest room drawers next to the Gideon.
Washington Post Book World
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