Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: Deadly Shoals by Joan Druett (Wiki Coffin #4)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting historical mystery
Cons: Story takes a back seat to history and ship details at times
The Bottom Line
You'll float back in time
Details flood the story
But still worth a read




Missing Ships and Murdered Traders

It was several years ago that I stumbled on the Wiki Coffin series in my local library.  And it's taken me that long to get to the fourth (and apparently final) book in the series.  Deadly Shoals has the normal flaws for the series, but it makes a good read.

The series is set aboard the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, a real trip that started in 1838.  The book is peppered with real life people from the expedition and fictitious characters like Wiki Coffin.  Wiki is the son of an American private captain, but he is half-Maori, and he has a talent for languages, which means he is on board as a linguist, especially as they get close to his nativeSouth SeasIsland.  He's also been given status as an agent of American law, which comes in handy since they seem to stumble upon murder and crime on a regular basis.

This book opens in late January 1839, and it finds Wiki and the rest of the expedition arriving at the Rio Negro, the final Atlantic landfall before they sail around Cape Horn and head towardAntarctica.  But as they are arriving, they are hailed by Captain Stackpole.  The man has just bought a sealing ship, but when he went to pick it up, it had vanished.  And so Wiki is pressed in to service to try to find it.

Naturally, they started with the trader who sold the ship in the first place, butAdamshas been missing for several days.  Following a faint trail, they discoverAdams' body.  Who killed him?  And will they ever track down the missing ship?

I mentioned series flaws.  Author Joan Druett is a nautical historian, and at times the book bogs down in dry recitation of shipping duties and jargon.  The plot is a bit thinner than it could be as a result, and this land lubber struggles with all the terms.

On the other hand, when an action scene shows up, that knowledge of ships comes in very handy.  There were a couple of scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, able to picture all the action perfectly.  This is especially true of the climax which was the best in the series.

And the plot?  It was thin, but there were several clues I completely missed that allowed Wiki to solve everything.  It was much more ingenious than I thought it was as I was reading.

Wiki makes a likable main character, and his life in two cultures gives him insight into things that others miss.  While the book is narrated in the third person, we are with him the entire time, so we get to know him pretty well.  Most of the time is spent away from the other characters we've gotten to know over the course of the series.  The new characters are interesting, but they never fully came to life for me.

This book came out at the end of 2007, and a sequel hasn't been released.  That's too bad since the book sets things up for what could have been a very interesting book five.

If you enjoy historical fiction, give this book a try.  I've learned about a part of American history I never remember learning in school and had an enjoyable time doing it.  If Deadly Shoals is indeed the final to the series, it sends Wiki out in style.

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

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