An Incidental Death in Monterey

Written by John O’Hagan
Review by Viviane Crystal

The natives of Monterey, California, in the late 18th century suffer tremendously under Spanish domination. The Governor of Monterey has made a secret agreement with an American ship to allow them to repair their ship in the harbor, provided they pay him for the privilege and make other financially beneficial trade actions. This violates Spanish law. The Governor, however, has other problems as well; he may be responsible for victimizing a native girl, Jacinta, and then for having her killed. Father Juan Ibarra is both a Franciscan priest, a doctor, and a bit of a sleuth. It is he who investigates the circumstances leading to Jacinta’s death.

The story becomes more and more sordid, exacerbated by the Governor’s shutting his wife away in a monastery after she became hysterical on finding him in bed with a woman. This is the simple plot: finding the murderer and exposing the Governor’s underhand and illegal financial machinations. If you think you can predict the outcome, you are totally wrong!

What remains with the reader, however, is the harshness of injustice juxtaposed with the dignity and innocence of the hard-working natives of Monterey. The treatment of Spanish wives is satirized as the undeserved, unjust treatment of “macho” Spanish husbands. The integrity of Father Ibarra, as well as his clever investigation skills, makes this a perfect crime novel. Despite the religious community being the center of Spanish life, corruption is a sneaky reality. John O’Hagan has a passionate love for this period of history and does a fine job of conveying it in its simplicity and complexity. Fine reading!