The Indomitable Miss Jones

Set in California shortly after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Dianne Day’s “The Bohemian Murders” talks itself up as a mystery, but it walks closer to a hybrid with romantic suspense.

It’s got Fremont Jones, your spunky, single heroine in a tower, in this case, the lighthouse on the Pacific Ocean, where she agreed to substitute for the vacationing keeper, while she’s trying to rebuild her typewriting business that was destroyed in the quake. There’s the mysterious stranger she’s attracted to, living in a spookly old mansion that Heathcliffe would have felt at home in, and the romantic complications with her man, the mysterious Russian-American Michael Archer, who has, for reasons unknown, turned cold to Jones, resumed his original name of Misha Kossoff, and taken up the bohemian life in nearby Carmel. The mystery is derived from the body of a woman washed ashore, a woman in a too-fine dress that no one can identify, and which disappears mysteriously soon after.

A plot this creaky demands a fresh approach, and Day doesn’t seem to find the right thread with which to weave her tale. The ingredients are there, and Day’s recreation of turn-of-the-century California is plain but not jarring, but Jones spends too much time driving from one location to another, while her Michael appears in the beginning to set up his mystery, then returns at the end to resolve it. It’s not a good sign that the typewriting jobs Jones takes on — generous excerpts are printed of an erotic thriller about a man who buys dreams — is more interesting than the main story. “The Bohemian Murders” tries to live up to both genres, and in the process turns as misty as the fogbanks that regularly sweeps Jones’ lighthouse.