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A Watery Grave
by Joan Druett

Category: Fiction / Mystery
0 pages; ISBN: 0312334419

Rating: 10/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Harriet Klausner

Review

A Watery Grave
Joan Druett
St. Martin’s, Oct 2004, $23.95, 288 pp.
ISBN: 0312334419

In 1838 Norfolk, someone takes a shot at half Maori William “Wiki” Coffin, Jr. before fleeing the area. Wiki next sees the corpse of a woman in his boat. The Sheriff arrests Wiki for murdering Mrs. Tristam Stanton, wife of the expedition’s astronomer. However, not long afterward, the Sheriff frees the “darkie” though he has no papers. Instead he believes that the killer is on the ship the Ex. Ex. already sailing on an exploration expedition in the South Seas. Since Wiki is a linguist with the expedition, the Sheriff asks him to investigate the murder on board the vessel.

As Wiki catches up to the ship, he also begins making inquiries. However, he finds the crew’s bias towards his race and national origin makes it difficult to obtain answers as well as delineate who is simply a bigot from a killer. Still, Wiki persists even as the ship is wracked with blunders, confusion, and dangerous decisions that almost sinks the effort before reaching the destination let alone solve a homicide.

This is a terrific historical mystery with the emphasis on real events and relationships circa 1838. The story line contains a fabulous who-done-it, but many of the red herrings are caused by racism that makes an individual seem nasty enough to commit murder. Wiki is a wonderful protagonist who hopefully stars in future South Sea adventures, but the key to this superb tale is the insight into the seemingly doomed real United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838.

Harriet Klausner

 

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