A 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