‘What is a sea detective?’ I hear you ask. Well, it is not a police officer who is based on a police launch that is part of a country or city’s policing unit: pulling bodies out of the water, dealing with stolen boats, drug runners, carrying out search and rescue. No, this sea detective is a completely different type of problem solver.
Edinburgh based oceanographer and environmentalist Cal McGill, is basically a scientist. As a young boy he became fascinated with the sea, its currents, its movements, and how something put into the water at one place can end up days, months or years later in a totally different place. There is a map at the beginning of this book that gives you an idea of the ocean currents in the North Atlantic, particularly around the west and north coasts of Scotland, where much of this novel is set.
The intriguing thing about this novel, is that although it sounds like a mystery or a thriller, it is really a number of stories or plots that are quite skilfully intertwined. Firstly, the body of a young Indian woman is washed up, which piques Cal’s interest, as he attempts to ascertain where it entered the water, and as a result where she may have originated from. In terms of crime and crime-solving, this particular mystery is the moral heart of the story.
As an aside, Cal also finds he is putting his unique skills into use when two severed feet wash up miles apart from one another, and one of the feet actually matches a third foot in a different shoe washed up somewhere. The day after I finished reading this book there was a story on the NZ Herald App from Canada about severed feet, still inside shoes, mysteriously washing up on the coastlines of Canada and the US. Quick, call Cal McGill. Here is the link –http://nzh.tw/11588325 Very bizarre.
At the same time as all this is going on, Cal finds himself taking steps back into his family’s past. An elderly woman is dying and she has some secrets she needs to share with Cal concerning his grandfather during the second world war. Cal always knew there was something not quite right with his family history, and using his specialist knowledge of ocean and wind currents he has the opportunity to put right a terrible wrong.
With the exception of a very small section, the whole novel is set in Scotland, much of it on the Outer Hebrides islands and west coast of Scotland. Cal leads a very solitary existence, this wild untamed environment suiting his temperament, and his slightly subversive nature. For he never lets a chance to annoy the authorities go by. As an environmentalist, he has got himself offside with the Edinburgh police HQ, an interesting little sub-plot that becomes quite crucial in his investigations into where the severed feet and the young Indian woman came from.
If it all sounds a bit quirky and light, it isn’t. Far from it. You know from the first page that some pretty awful things are going to be happening. The plot does wander a bit, weaving these various threads together, the tension being slowly turned up as the story gathers pace. Cal is an extraordinary detective, uncovering some very bad things, putting his own life in danger.
A great story, well told.
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
The Sea Detective
by Mark Douglas-Home
Published by Penguin Books