Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas-Home

Cal McGill works as a sea detective, trying to determine where bodies that enter the water might travel to.  He’s often hired by families seeking to find the resting place of a loved one.  In this case, it’s David Wheeler, an English father who is hunting for answers in relation to the disappearance of his son, Max, from a small island in the Outer Hebrides.  The boy had been spending a night alone camping on Priest’s Island when he vanished, his body never found.  Wheeler is convinced his son was murdered by a local and has become obsessed with finding his killer. Every year he has sent an investigator with a different skill set to try and crack the case.  The arrival of the investigator along with Wheeler and his three daughters to mark the anniversary of the disappearance sets the small community on edge as they rally round to protect their reputation from what they feel are unfounded accusations. The question is, can McGill succeed where others have failed?

The Malice of Waves is the third instalment in the sea detective series. It’s not easy to find a fresh angle in crime fiction, but Douglas-Home manages to carve out a little niche with an oceanographer who specialises in tracking bodies lost at sea. In this case Cal McGill is drafted in to help find out what happened to a boy who disappeared from a small island five year’s previously. His presence in the local community is resented and family are hardly welcoming either. He’s joined in the Outer Hebrides by Helen Jamieson, a police officer pretending to an ordinary member of the public trying to get over a failed relationship. While Cal rubs the locals and family up the wrong way while trying to get a handle on the local currents, Helen makes friends with the locals by the hanging around the local tea shop. Douglas-Home creates a strong sense of place and immerses the reader in the tense relations between the locals and family.  There’s nice characterisation of the villagers and the Wheeler family, with both Cal and Helen being appealing leads. The pace is steady and unrushed and the plot has plenty of blinds and misdirection.  While the main thread is nicely constructed, the plotline with Pinkee Pryke, a poacher of bird eggs, felt like a plot device and was a little underdeveloped and not fully resolved.  Overall, an engaging and atmospheric detective story.

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