Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Review: The Beckoning Ice by Joan Druett (Wiki Coffin #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, interesting history and mystery
Cons: Pacing is slow at times, but book always interesting
The Bottom Line:
A dead midshipman
Expedition rounds Cape Horn
Fun historic tale

Murder Approaches the South Pole

I’m trying to make a conscious effort this year to get to books I have had for a while but haven’t read.  One of those books is The Beckoning Ice, the fifth Wiki Coffin Mystery.  I’ve had this book for several years and am glad to finally learn about his latest case.

If you are new to the series, Wiki is a half Pacific Islander/half American who has joined the US Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842.  The mission of this expedition was to chart the Pacific and Antarctica regions and get scientific samples of the plants and animals found along the way.  Wiki officially joined as the linguist since he can already speak several languages and has a knack for learning foreign tongues.  Before they left Virginia, he was also commissioned to act as an arm of the law, which is a good thing considering the murders that keep happening.  This is book 5, and we are finally heading to Antarctica in February of 1839.

As the book opens, the expedition is approaching Cape Horn.  While many of the sailors are looking forward to their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, Wiki has other concerns.  A crewman on the ship he is currently on has slit his own throat.  It was well known that Midshipman Dove was unhappy with the life of a sailor, but Wiki doesn’t believe he committed suicide, and he soon begins to find evidence to back up his theory.  But who committed the crime?

Looking back at my reviews, it appears to have been at least 7 years, probably longer, since I last read a book in this series.  However, I had no difficulty jumping back into Wiki’s world.  We are given enough background to remember who all the key players are, both real and fictional, as the story gets going.

There are a lot of characters to keep straight.  Fortunately, we are given hints to remind us who everyone is as the book progresses.  I didn’t have many issues remembering who someone was the instant they walked on page, which I appreciated.  It helps that the characters are developed enough to stand out from each other.

Author Joan Druett is fascinated by naval history.  She’s written many books outside of this series on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction.  That comes through in the book, and if you are interested in the subject, you’ll love these books.  I have a love of all things nautical, which is one reason the series appealed to me in the first place.

However, that does tend to get in the way of the story at times.  When that happens, it isn’t too long before the mystery picks back up again, fortunately, and I’ve become fascinated with this expedition, so I enjoyed learning a bit more about what was happening with the ships at the time.  So, while the mystery was uneven, I was rarely bored as I read.

Joan does an excellent job of weaving history and fiction together.  An author’s note at the end helps us separate fact from fiction, which I appreciated.  Once again, I am wishing I could find a nice non-fiction book on the subject to learn what really happened for the entire length of the voyage.

I love it when an author takes a little known subject they love and brings it to life for us.  That’s what we’ve gotten with the Wiki Coffin series.  Based on how long it has been since this book came out, it appears that The Beckoning Ice may be the end of the line for Wiki.  If you find the subject remotely interesting, I definitely recommend you check the series out.

Enjoy the rest of the Wiki Coffin Mysteries.

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