Deadly Shoals

Written by Joan Druett
Review by Lucille Cormier

Off the coast of Patagonia, January 1839: William “Wiki” Coffin, Maori son of a Yankee sea captain, serves as linguist for the U.S. South Seas Exploring Expedition. At the age of twenty-four, he already has an enviable reputation as naval officer and successful detective.

In this, the fourth of Joan Druett’s Wiki Coffin mysteries, Wiki’s orders are to find a stolen ship. Whaling captain Stackpole has paid $1000 for a ship he has yet to see. He and Wiki trek inland along the Rio Negro to find the elusive sales agent, Adams, who, along with the ship, has disappeared. Each step of the investigation is laid out, chapter by well-constructed chapter, to the surprising and satisfying conclusion.

It’s hard to imagine that the author has not spent years sailing on tall ships, so detailed is her description of the vessels and so fluid her maritime dialogue. She spins a great yarn laced with rich landscape detail, character observations, and a wealth of ethnological information – none of which is intrusive or pedantic. There is also a little sub-mystery to solve in Deadly Shoals: who really is the querulous and fiery first mate of the trading vessel, Osprey? This one will make you smile. Actually, the whole book makes you smile appreciatively.