Category Archives: Manning, David

David Manning. Dead Letters. New York:imPRESSions, 2013.

Duncan Twist struggles to gain his bearings in the small, coastal North Carolina town of Dusktide Beach. Although middle-aged Twist self-identifies as a New Yorker, he did once live in Durham. Nevertheless, Duncan experiences serious culture shock in Dusktide Beach. The locals don’t exactly make Duncan welcome. They remind him that he’s New Yorker who sticks out like sore, Yankee thumb. But Duncan has no intention to stay in Dusktide Beach permanently. His client, Nick Varnish, has loaned him a cottage there for vacation. Duncan works odd jobs, like writing, editing, and researching, for Nick who owns the Brooklyn Bridge Cable Company. Despite his semi-regular freelancing, Nick does not warrant investing a full-time position over Duncan’s services.

When Duncan arrives at the cottage, the key that Nick swore would be waiting for him is not there. Irritated, Duncan speeds back into town in search of a phone, only to be cut off for a parking spot by Lump Whitefish. Duncan later learns that the Whitefish family owns a large stretch of undeveloped land that is the focus of a controversial pending six lane wide bridge. Despite their slightly hostile exchange, Lump sends his aunt, a real estate agent for most of the beach-side properties, to deliver a key to Duncan. Lump’s aunt does not bring the key to Duncan however. A familiar yet unexpected face plays messenger. Tendency Specter, Duncan’s old girlfriend, has relocated to Dusktide Beach, of all places. She acts as the town’s part-time archivist, and is, conveniently, divorced.

Reunited, Tendency and Duncan reflect on their previous relationship and their youthful counterculture days in the 1970s filled with bean sprouts, soy burgers, and the Peace Corps. Tendency wastes no time at introducing Duncan to the local tradition of the Kindred Spirit. The Kindred Spirit occupies Lorne Island in the form of a mailbox and can only be reached by crossing an inlet during low tide. Within the mailbox are two spiral-bound notebooks filled with messages addressed to the Kindred Spirit. The understanding behind the concept is that every person who contributes messages to the notebooks shares a kindred spirit. Townspeople started the tradition in 1968 and Tendency is interested in the phenomenon as the area’s archivist.

A mystery surrounding one of the messages draws in Duncan and Tendency. The message implores the Kindred Spirit for help in locating a notebook missing from the mystical mailbox, as well as a missing person. Things take a turn for the weird when not one, but two, possibly Confederate skeletons turn up. Are the skeletons actually the remains of Confederate soldiers or is it a ruse? As Tendency and Duncan try to uncover the notebook and determine the identity of the missing person, they exhume a host of rivalries and petty squabbles. But this very mystery that has helped to fan the last embers of their former relationship might just tear Tendency and Duncan apart again. After they become deeply involved they realize that someone is not pleased about their investigation and might take ruthless measures to cease their sleuthing.

Manning’s inspiration for the Kindred Spirit is likely drawn from the Kindred Spirit mailbox on Bird Island near Sunset Beach, North Carolina. For other North Carolina novels that feature the Kindred Spirit, look at blog posts on Marybeth Whalen’s romance novel, The Mailbox and Jacqueline DeGroot’s mystery novel, The Secret of the Kindred Spirit.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

Leave a Comment

Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Manning, David, Mystery