Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: Shark Island by Joan Druett (Wiki Coffin #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good story with nice twists; interesting characters
Cons: Forsythe's constant swearing; pace uneven at times
The Bottom Line:
Sailing to Murder
With the crew of a shipwreck
Pace off but still good

Murder and Shipwreck

Between 1838 and 1842, the United States sent out six ships on an exploring expedition.  At the time, it was a big deal.  Frankly, I don't remember even hearing about it in school.  But this footnote in history is the setting for Shark Island, the second in the Wiki Coffin Mysteries.

Wiki is one of many fictional characters added to the very real expedition.  Half New Zealander, half American, Wiki's main job is linguist.  While this is a Navy venture, Wiki is a civilian.  However, the rest of the characters, including his best friend, George Rochester, and nemesis Lieutenant Forsythe, are Navy.  Most of the action takes place on the fictional seventh ship, the Swallow.

There are rumors of pirates in the waters ahead, so the Swallow is sent ahead to find out the truth.  What Wiki and the rest find instead is a ship that hit a reef and is slowly taking on water off the coast of an abandoned island.  The crew has hardly made contact before Captain Ezekiel Reed is murdered.  Captain Reed was a friend of Wiki's father, so he takes a personal interest in the case.

The problem comes when Lieutenant Forsythe becomes the leading suspect.  Forsythe and Wiki don't get along at all, but he can't believe that his enemy committed this particular crime.  Can he find out who really committed the crime while figuring out a way to repair the boat so they don't have to take a murderer on board?

I enjoyed the first book in the series, and this one was more of the same.  The characters are very real people.  Most of the book takes place away from the rest of the ships, so this book is almost completely populated by fictional characters.  But that didn't hurt them at all.  Wiki is a smart man who pieces things together in a realistic manner.  Even Reed, who only has a small role here, makes a memorable appearance.  I enjoyed spending time with everyone, which is a key.

The only complaint I have with the characters is Forsythe.  Mind you, I don't mind his attitude toward Wiki since that's part of the story.  The problem is his foul mouth.  He can't speak without throwing swear words in there.  It's at least once every time he speaks, and often every sentence.  Granted, I prefer my books with as little swearing as possible.  In this case, the other characters hardly swear.  This makes his off color language even more jarring.

The plot moves forward at a mostly steady pace.  At times, the details of the repairs on the other ship take over the story for a while.  It was better than the details of life at sea that were shoehorned into the first book, but I did want to get back to the murder, which had several nice twists in it before the logical climax.

I still wish there were a glossary of nautical terms in the book somewhere, but that is my only complaint about the writing.  It is smooth, making it easy to get lost in the story.  The third person narration mostly sticks with Wiki with occasional breaks to give us information from other character's perspectives.

Yes, there were some flaws in this book, but they are minor.  I enjoyed my sailing trip back in time with Shark Island and look forward to catching another adventure with Wiki soon.

Follow the adventures of Wiki and the Exploring Expedition by reading the Wiki Coffin Mysteries in order.

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