A.C. Burch's 'The Distance Between Us' — a murder mystery in Provincetown

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday February 6, 2024
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author A.C. Burch
author A.C. Burch

Written with great creativity and passion, "The Distance Between Us" by A. C. Burch is a fun page-turner with echoes of "Murder She Wrote," Miss Marple, and at times Jane Austen.

It's peppered with camp humor and a high-bouncing array of vivid characters that come to life. But one charismatic character stands out. Helena Handbasket is the professional drag queen and pillar of the artistic community who was also featured in Burch's previous novel, "The HomePort Journals."

The story opens with Celia-Jane (CJ) Strongue, recent widow of The Scrap Metal King of Hunts Point and latent lesbian no more, as she attempts to make a long-awaited move from Brooklyn to the Provincetown area at first without her beloved pooch.

The only person CJ has met thus far who has shown any interest in her is protagonist Helena Handbasket, even though she is busy planning an exhibition of the art of acclaimed artist and local super-star Mavis Chandry. But when art works are stolen, others are vandalized, and Mrs. Strongue's body turns up just as key law enforcement assets are on extended leave for the summer, many in the tight-knit community fear a dark underworld has silently wrapped its tentacles around their town.

Fortunately, Helena is a sassy diva with hobbies like sailing and amateur sleuthing when she finds herself thrust into the middle of this convoluted murder mystery. Readers will appreciate the novel's witty repartee, fabulous fashion and drag performances, and the fact that Helena has cobbled together her own found family.

author A.C. Burch  

A Fascinating History
P'town, in the novel as in real life, is a charming mix of disparate groups: the Portuguese, the LGBT community, and monied newcomers. The long-time Portuguese families whose ancestors worked on the whaling boats welcomed the LGBT community that made their small town at the end of Cape Cod their adopted home.

But the recent pandemic disrupted the harmony of the serene sea-side community when tensions developed between monied newcomers or "washashores" and the "townies." The newcomers moved in, bought up property and sent property values sky high, creating a housing crisis for the long-time residents. It's a problem too great to be ignored.

Anyone with a fondness for New England's history will appreciate that the Cape's nearly forgotten colonial history of pirates and lost loves also comes to life in the novel.

Burch does not shy away from painful issues, like the birth of a deformed child, vituperative ex-lovers who specialize in betrayal, and how difficult it can be to earn a living busking and waiting tables in P'town. Like a Jane Austen novel, Burch also addresses big-picture issues by sneaking in social commentary. With an engaging plot that reveals surprise after surprise, this is a book about identity and belonging, acceptance and self-acceptance. From the very first page, Burche's memorable novel is full of heart.

"What pronouns do you prefer? His/Him? She/Her? They/Them? And do you describe yourself as a drag queen, gender non-binary, gay, transgender, or transvestite? It's important to me to get things right."

"So considerate of you, Paul. My pronouns are She/Her. I've been using them forever, and that's what works best for me. As for the rest, I used to call myself a cross-dresser, but these days I bill myself as a fulltime female impersonator — twenty-four-seven, 'living the dream.'"

Paul's interest was piqued. "What do you see as the difference between a drag queen and a female impersonator? And may I also ask — just for my edification — exactly what does 'living the dream' mean to you?"

"Never hold back your questions on camera or off, Paul. In my mind, there's a subtle distinction between drag and impersonation. A female impersonator has the leeway to be as outrageous as the wildest drag queen, but also subdued when they want to be. Since I dress as a woman pretty much all the time, that description works best for me in real life and on stage.

"As for 'living the dream,' it's a term Ellie, the legendary Provincetown showgirl, taught me. It means living my 'T' — my truth — as I define it. Being the best person I can be and not kowtowing to society's expectations or demands."

'The Distance Between Us' by A.C. Burch, HomePort Press, $16.73. homeportpress.com

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