I first became acquainted with the small township of Bellingham, Washington and it’s excentric collection of inhabitants in 2009. That’s when Primal Red was first published and Nicole Kimberling introduced us to Peter Fontaine, intrepid reporter for The Bellingham Hamster, reclusive painter Nick Olsen, Peter’s best friend and former roommate, found object artist Evangeline, and her stoner boyfriend, Tommy. In each book, Peter investigates a mystery with all the enthusiasm and determination of an Edward R. Murrows (his idol) and with the assistance of some of the quirky new age/back to the earth/greenie inhabitants of the City of Subdued Excitement also kown as Bellingham. Peter’s forays for clues and evidence often put him and others around him in danger, at times keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.
Along with some wonderful mysteries, we get Peter’s idiosyncratic inner monologue which is a absolute delight. Whether Peter is racing down the streets of Bellingham on his bike (his preferred method of locomotion) or sitting at his desk at The Hamster, he is constantly composing either paragraphs for a book or a column for the newspaper. His thoughts vary from the whimsical to the sarcastic but are always entertaining. Here is an example from the latest book in the series:
“From the Turgid and Tempestuous Chronicles of the Castle at Wildcat Cove: On a stormy Friday evening in April, in the year of our Lord 2011, Evangeline Conklin (sometime found-object artist and all-time best friend of Peter Fontaine) approached the cliffside residence that Fontaine shared with artist Nick Olson. Evangeline’s long curling hair, plaited with dozens of ribbons of astonishing variety, now hung bedraggled by rain and wind and dripped water on the entry mat as she exclaimed, “Thank God you’re home. I really need a favor!”
Peter and Nick first meet in Primal Red and their relationship deepens and matures with each book, in conjunction with the investigation of a mystery as more of Nick’s mysterious history is revealed to Peter and the reader. I love this slow building of a relationship that is full of hesitation, fear of commitment, love, and the necessary adjustments a person makes to accommodate the one they love. Kimberling does a great job with all her characters but Peter and Nick hold a special place in my heart. Both men with their diverse backgrounds love their town and the people that live there. Whether its townfolk search for the mystical, the best ceramic glaze, or the finest method of composting, tolerance and acceptance is the key foundation of those who live within its boundaries. In each book I also learn something new about a topic the author is either invested in (beekeeping) or interested in. I love this element as well as her characters and find the time I spend within the covers of her books one of enjoyment and satisfaction. I understand Kimberling is going to write another in the series. I hope so as I can’t wait to visit again in the City of Subdued Excitement!
The Bellingham Mysteries series in the order they were written and should be read in order to better understand the characters, their history, and their town of Bellingham:
Primal Red, Bellingham Mystery #1: 4.25 star rating. Peter Fontaine is a reporter with a local free newspaper with a knack for falling right into a story, or in this case, being in the thick of things. Peter just happens to be on the premises when Shelley Vine, local art professor and rising star of the art world, is stabbed to death in the Vitamilk Building, a historical edifice now housing artists of all media. Also renting out studio space is reclusive artist Nick Olsen, an enigmatic man Peter finds himself attracted to. Peter hopes his investigation into Vine’s death propels his career as an investigative reporter forward into the ranks of writers he admires. But the deeper Peter investigates into Vine’s past, the more connections he finds with all of the artists in the building, including Nick. But nothing will stop Peter from finding out the truth, even if it means Nick’s arrest. This is a wonderful introduction to the very earliest beginnings of the partnership of Nick and Peter. Peter is also just starting out his career as a journalist and pursues this case with all the eagerness of a first time reporter on the loose. Loved it.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Bellingham Mystery #2: 4.5 star rating. Small town reporter, Peter Fontaine is in the middle of a personal crisis. He is turning 30 and is reexamining his life upon receiving a job offer from a prodigious newspaper in Austin. His boyfriend Nick Olson, artist, recluse, and snow-loving outdoorsman, is firmly based in the Northwest, specifically Bellingham, and going to Austin might mean leaving Nick behind. When Nick and his cousin enter the Freezing Man snow sculpture competition, Peter accompanies him, hoping for answers and another column for The Hamster. Before he can tell Nick of his job offer, they come across a frozen corpse inside one of the competition snow sculptures and the race is on to find a murderer before the contest is over. This is one of my favorite books of the series. Peter is forced to examine the state of his relationship with Nick as well take a hard look at his ambitions as a reporter. More of Nick’s background is also revealed and we get to see what contributed to his character’s reclusive nature.
Black Cat Ink, Bellingham Mystery #3: 4.25 stars. It’s Halloween, Nick and Peter’s favorite holiday and time to host their famous Halloween party. But first Peter and Nick must first recover a stolen statue from the local museum, a theft made all the more interesting as its sculptor was Nick’s deceased lover. To find the statue and discover the identity of the thief, Peter must look into Nick’s background for the answer, something Nick is not comfortable with Peter doing. And then black cats start disappearing and a goat is stolen. As the mysteries pile up, Peter is going to have to work overtime to solve all the mysteries before Halloween, their party, and his new slutty nurse costume can make its debut! What is an intrepid reporter to do? A fun outing that turns serious at points as Peter and Nick’s relationship moves forward towards a level of commitment that Peter has just now understood that he wants.
One Man’s Treasure, Bellingham Mystery #4: 4.5 stars. When Evangeline begs a favor from Nick and Peter, they end up assisting at her booth at the Bellingham Farmers Market just in time to see Nick’s friend and fellow ceramic artist, collapse at the booth. When they learn that Roger died at the hospital and the cause of death was poisoning, both Peter and Nick investigate Roger’s background and the motives of those around him. For Nick, watching Peter put himself at risk once more for a story makes him wonder at Peter’s commitment to their relationship. For Peter, it has been four wonderful years since they first met. They live together, have a cat, and Peter’s columns have brought him several awards. Yet, his boundless curiosity in search of a story and bad habit of throwing himself into dangeroussituations once again threaten the stability of his relationship. Peter must figure out where he priorities lie even as he searches for a killer at the Green Goddess Farms and Farmers Market.
April Martinez is the cover artist for all the covers and does a nice job with the graphics but none of the designs really speaks to the stories within.