On A Desert Shore
Marina Garrod, a mixed-race girl, is the daughter of Joanna, a slave woman who was the mistress of Hugo Garrod, a sugar planter in Jamaica. Garrod, now a wealthy businessman in Britain, is very concerned about her mental health. He suspects she is the victim of some dastardly tricks designed to drive her insane. He employs John Chase, a Bow Street Runner, to protect her.
Before becoming a thief-taker, Chase was a lieutenant in the British Navy, stationed in Jamaica. There he contracted a serious illness and was nursed back to health by Joanna, who had a reputation as an obeah, a kind of witch doctor.
Chase takes up residence at Garrod’s country house. Her aunt, cousins and suitors are there, as well as her guardian who is also a trustee of Garrod’s estate. We have a fairly typical Agatha Christie-style ‘country-house’ murder scene, and before long the inevitable occurs.
This novel has a lot going for it, in particular the author’s very convincing knowledge of the period. Also, unlike so many historical mysteries that with a little tweaking could have occurred at any time, this story could only have taken place in the early 19th century. The legal and technical content are especially well done.
For me, though, the novel lacks good creative editing, especially in the last few chapters, which really should have been drastically cut. Some readers may also find John Chase a not very competent detective. He depends far too much on the acumen of his friends Penelope Wolfe and Edward Buckler, who are also guests at the Garrod house. Four stars for historical interest and accuracy, but only three for the mystery and its denouement.