Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some crime fiction novels are just as much adventure novels as they are crime novels. The suspense in this kind of novel comes from the action and readers who enjoy adventure-type crime novels get caught up in the pace of the story. That’s the kind of novel that Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide is so let’s turn today’s spotlight on Deadly Tide.
The story begins when Brisbane cop Chayse Jarrett gets a new assignment. Allan “Tug” Bretton, captain of the fishing trawler Sea Mistress, has been accused of murdering Ewan McKay, deckhand from another trawler Kladium. The theory is that the murder was connected to the drugs trade and that Melbourne drug lord Stefan Kosanovos may be opening up operations in the Brisbane area. Jarrett’s orders are to go undercover on Sea Mistress and find out whether there is anything that connects Tug Bretton to the drugs trade and whether he actually is guilty of murdering McKay.
Jarrett’s got some resistance to the assignment at first as he’s still dealing with the fallout from a murder eight weeks earlier – a murder he wasn’t able to solve. But he agrees and soon lets it be known that he’s looking for a job as a deckhand.
Also interested in the McKay murder is Bretton’s twenty-nine-year-old daughter Samantha “Sam.” Sam Bretton is convinced that her father is innocent and wants to find out who really killed Ewan McKay. Tug Bretton broke his leg in the incident that ended in McKay’s murder so Sam convinces her father to let her skipper Sea Mistress in his place. Her logic, which her father can’t deny, is that if the trawler doesn’t go out, the Brettons won’t be able to keep their family fishing business going. So Tug unwillingly goes along with his daughter’s plan and it’s actually Sam Bretton who hires Chayse Jarrett as a deckhand.
Jarrett begins his work on Sea Mistress and soon wins the very reluctant approval of Sam and of her other crew-mate Bill Marvin. He soon suspects though that Sam’s hiding something. And he’s right. He’s concerned too that she may be getting into too much danger. She’s made it clear that she is determined to find out who really killed Ewan McKay and Jarrett knows how dangerous Kosanovos and his people are.
Matters become complicated when Chayse and Sam fall in love since each is keeping a secret from the other. I can’t say more about what Sam is hiding without getting too close to spoiler-ville. Despite not being completely honest with each other though, both want to bring down McKay’s killer. And in the end, they find out who the murderer is and how that murder is connected with Stefan Kosanovos and his “empire.” They also find out how all of the events in the story are connected to the long-ago voyage of another ship, and a mutiny that occurred during its travels.
As I mentioned, this is an adventure story, so there are narrow escapes, nasty “bad guys,” brave deeds and so on. Yes, buckles are swashed. Readers who prefer quieter, slower-paced psychological mysteries will be disappointed. That said though, it’s worth noting that this is a modern adventure story – little sign here of the stereotypical helpless “lady in distress” who can do nothing for herself. Also, this adventure relies just as much on brains and the ability to put pieces of evidence together as it does on physical prowess.
Another element that runs through this novel is the shipboard setting. Much of the action occurs aboard Sea Mistress and Kladium so readers get a sense of what it’s like on a trawler. Trawlers don’t allow for luxury as a rule and we get a sense of the cramped quarters and the need to make do with what one has. There are also several scenes during which the three Sea Mistress crew members do the work involved in trawling for different kinds of fish and other sea life. It’s a dangerous occupation that doesn’t allow much margin for error financially or in any other way and that’s made clear in the novel. There’s background too on how trawlers work, the policies that govern the Australian fishing industry and shipboard lifestyle.
One of the facts of both shipboard life and solving crimes is that neither can be done alone. So another element in this novel is the network of friendships, collegial relationships and so on that are necessary to finding out the truth in the case. We see that of course in the way that Sam Bretton and her crew do their jobs. They have to trust each other or fish don’t get caught and people get hurt – or worse. Rarely (in real life nearly never) are criminals brought down by just one person. So we also see how Jarrett depends on his boss Peter as well as his other connections to do his job. Sam too depends on others like her brother Brendon to get background information that will help her clear her father’s name. Sam’s unwavering trust in his innocence is also an important thread in the novel. The question of trust comes up in another way too. Some of the characters in the novel turn out not to be what they seem. So part of the challenge that Sam and Chayse face is deciding whom they can trust.
Also important in this story is the romance that develops between Chayse Jarrett and Sam Bretton. Readers who prefer not to have their crime fiction mixed with romance and some steamy scenes will be disappointed. The relationship happens naturally though, and it’s not hard to be on this couple’s side as they get beyond their pasts and learn to trust each other. It’s also worth noting that both characters deal with what’s happened to them without wallowing in drink, drugs, or other self-destructive behaviour. Yes, they are sad – wounded even. But they are not defeated, nor do they let their pasts obsess them. Their characters are interesting threads through the story.
An old-fashioned adventure story with a modern look and feel, Deadly Tide features some really interesting information about trawling, a couple of protagonists whom we can cheer on, and a solid Brisbane-area setting. Oh, and swashed buckles too. But what’s your view? Have you read Deadly Tide? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 24 September/Tuesday 25 September – Baptism – Max Kinnings
Monday 1 October/Tuesday 2 October – One Coffee With – Margaret Maron
Monday 8 October/Tuesday 9 October – The Sins of the Fathers – Lawrence Block