Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: Run Afoul by Joan Druett (Wiki Coffin #3)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Decent writing; what little mystery there was was good
Cons: Too much history for a novel
The Bottom Line:
Too much history
Tries to pad a mystery
Too short for a book

This Novel Forgot the Fiction in Historical Fiction

Wiki Coffin is half American and half New Zealand native, a mix that makes him perfect for the Exploration Expedition.  He's working as a linguist on board the ships, or at least he would be if he were real.  Actually, Wiki is just a fictional character created for a mystery series that uses the expedition as the backdrop for some mysteries.  Since I love sailing and ships, I've enjoyed the first two books.  The third, Run Afoul, was a disappointment, however.

As 1838 winds down, the expedition is heading into Rio de Janeiro.  The plan is to restock supplies and perform some repairs on the ships before moving further south.  But before the ships can even make the harbor, one of the members of the expedition starts to get very sick.  As Wiki watches, the man starts to get better before taking a turn for the worse and dying.

Meanwhile, the ships have finally reached Rio and literally run into William Coffin, Wiki's father.  How will their reunion play out, especially with the backdrop of a potential murder?

Author Joan Druett is a navel historian, having written several non-fiction books on various subjects before starting these mysteries.  That's been obvious in other books in the series when historical details slow down the story.  However, in the previous books the story hasn't slowed down for long.

If only that were the case here.

There is a mystery and a plot; it's just very, very small.  It would be enough for a short story, maybe a novella.  Instead, it has to be expanded to fill an entire novel.  To do that, we get pages about the experiments the expedition is doing while in port waiting for repairs and other matters to be completed.  Honestly, I didn't care.  Making matters worse, the book jacket spoils way too much of the story.  I guessed the villain long before the end, although the motive wasn't completely solidified in my mind before Wiki figured things out.

I had hoped that with William in a book, we'd get some great character development.  And there were some interesting scenes as father and son met for the first time in the series.  I do think I understand him a bit better, and seeing Wiki talk about why he embraces the Islander side of his heritage was interesting.  Again, the amount of character development we got could have fit into a novella.  There was no reason to stretch things out for the entire length of the book.

I've actually got no complaints against the writing.  I was always able to get lost in Wiki's world.  However, no amount of good writing can cover up for lack of story to tell.

So, ultimately, Run Afoul was a disappointment.  I enjoyed the first two books enough that I will give the fourth in the series a try.  Hopefully, it will have an actual story to tell.

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

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