Book Review: The Malice of Waves, by Mark Douglas-Home

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_malice_of_wavesA few months ago I read and enjoyed the first novel in this series of Cal McGill, The Sea Detective. Cal McGill is a most interesting character – an oceanographer with a good back story who uses his skills and knowledge of the sea and weather to solve murders, washed up or missing bodies, and parts thereof. There were a number of plots happening in the story, which came together nicely at the end, very well interwoven with a cast of diverse characters and situations tightly held. It was great.

In this one, number three in the series, for me, something is missing. I didn’t feel a connection with the story or the characters. Which is disappointing. This is actually more about the community that Cal finds himself in, rather than Cal himself, this really different type of detective and interesting person to boot. And so I think something has been lost in this shift. Perhaps there is just too much going on, too many threads to hold together.

Great opening, with Cal in a boat off a small island (fictional) in the Outer Hebrides – yes, the physical setting is still very awesome – undertaking bouyancy experiments with Millie, who is a dead pig. Gross really, but as pigs are similar to humans in their physiology, very useful to Cal in his area of work. He is actually in the area looking into the disappearance on the island five years earlier of fourteen-year-old Max Wheeler, who was on a boating trip with his father and sisters. No body had ever been found, and now Cal has been called in by the father’s lawyer to see if his knowledge of ocean currents, winds, storms could shed some light on where the body, if there is a body, may have gone. A mystery – was it murder, accident, suicide, abduction?

The father, David Wheeler, has never come to terms with the disappearance of his son. His purchase of the island created considerable conflict with long time users of the island, which continues into the present. The issue just never goes away mainly due to the bitter and angry Wheeler returning to the area every year on the anniversary of his son’s disappearance, which is what is about to happen in the story. Tensions are simmering throughout the story, not just between the Wheelers and the locals, but also amongst the local residents themselves. Cal’s presence, on Wheeler’s behalf, is further fuel to the fire.

Over the course of the book, what happened to young Max does eventually come out. But surprisingly, it is not all due to Cal and his knowledge of the seas. The focus of the story is really on the local community, in particular Bella, who owns and operates the local cafe, the hub of this small coastal village. Bella takes on all the dramas of the community, is guardian for her niece, and looks out for a number of other, mostly young people. This leads her into a murky and dangerous alliance with a peculiar man who collects rare birds’ eggs, and whose arrival in the area probably contributes more to the eventual solving of the mystery than Cal’s expertise.

It is a good read, but with numerous sub-plots going on, it did jump around a lot, becoming disjointed in parts. I really wanted to have more of Cal solving the mystery using his unique knowledge and skills, and more of him as the lone, slightly offbeat detective character he was in the first novel. Although Millie did pop up again during the story, which was interesting!

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Malice of Waves
by Mark Douglas-Home
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN 9780718182755

Book Review: The Sea Detective, by Mark Douglas-Home

cv_the_sea_detectiveAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

‘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
ISBN  9781405923569