Category Archives: Sandy Curtis

We’ll Search for Tomorrow on Every Shore*

Adventures Are you the adventurous type? Some people like to dare themselves to do new things. Other people are more cautious. And of course there are strong arguments for both ways of thinking. Being adventurous leads to what can be fantastic experiences. It can also lead to an awful lot of danger and consequences for others. On the other hand being cautious means less danger and more reflection, which can be easier on one’s stress level. Caution can also mean one misses out on some amazing experiences. And too much caution can be its own kind of trap. But either type of person can make for an interesting character in crime fiction, especially if the adventurous/cautious trait isn’t carried too far.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit features Anne Beddingfeld, who has to begin life on her own after her father’s death. She’s left with very little money and no strong personal ties, so it’s not long before she decides to get out and see what the world has to offer. She’s at a tube station one day when she sees a man fall to the tracks in what looks at first like a terrible accident. When a piece of paper falls out of the victim’s pocket, Anne picks it up and by chance, figures out that the note on the paper refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse she books passage on the ship and soon gets herself mixed up in a case involving stolen diamonds and international crime. Anne’s adventurous nature makes sense given her age and her circumstances and in this story it works.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, we meet Andreas Winther. He’s a young man who enjoys taking risks. He’s very much the easily bored type who’s always up for an adventure. He’s somewhat of a non-conformist and doesn’t have a lot of close friends, but he is good friends with Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. Together the two of them go drinking, try new things and so on. Occasionally they get into trouble, but usually it’s nothing terribly serious. Then one day Andreas’ adventurous nature pushes him and Zipp into some dangerous adventures that go too far. Certainly they go farther than Zipp intended. At the end of that day Andreas disappears. His mother Runi worries about her son and goes to the police, but the police don’t take her concerns seriously at first. Then when more time passes and Andreas still hasn’t returned, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre begin to look into what happened. Zipp is in the best position to know exactly where his friend is and what happened but he’s completely unwilling to co-operate (And no, it’s not because he killed Andreas. He didn’t). Bit by bit though, Sejer and Skarre learn about the kind of person Andreas is, and they find out the truth about his disappearance. In this case, Andreas’ adventurous personality fuels what happens in the book and makes sense.

So does Sam Bretton’s adventurousness in Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide. Sam is the daughter of Alan ‘Tug’ Bretton, captain of Sea Mistress, a fishing trawler based in Brisbane. When Bretton is accused of murdering Ewan McKay, deckhand from another ship, Sam takes his place as skipper. She’s actually got two motives for doing that. One is that if the family boat doesn’t go out, creditors may take it. The other is that she knows her father isn’t guilty of murder and wants to find out who really killed Ewan McKay. What Sam doesn’t know at first is that Chayse Jarrett, the deckhand’s she’s just hired for this trip, is an undercover cop who’s been assigned to find out whether Bretton killed McKay and whether Sea Mistress is involved in recent drugs activity in the area. First separately and then together, Sam Bretton and Chayse Jarrett look for the murderer and go up against some fairly nasty drugs smugglers. In this novel, Sam Bretton’s adventurousness makes sense; she’s the daughter of a fishing boat captain and she’s been to sea many times. For her, risk is a part of life, and Curtis doesn’t make her completely foolhardy. So we can believe that someone like Sam Bretton could exist.

But of course not all fictional protagonists, even in murder mysteries, are that adventurous. For instance, in Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we meet mystery novelist Martin Canning. He’s never been one to take risks. In fact, he’s happiest when he’s safely writing his novels that take place in a very ‘safe’ environment. Then one day he happens to be ‘on the scene’ when Paul Bradley brakes his silver Peugot in time to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The car behind Bradley’s, a blue Honda, doesn’t stop and hits the Peugot. The two men get into an argument that ends with the Honda driver brandishing a baseball bat. Now Bradley is in danger for his life and Canning, who’s never done a courageous thing in his life, throws his laptop case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. Out of a sense of duty, Canning accompanies Bradley to a local hospital to make sure he’s all right, and that’s how Canning gets drawn into a complicated web of fraud, theft and murder. It adds a real level of tension to this novel to see how the completely unadventurous Canning reacts to this adventure that’s been forced on him.

That happens in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move too. Science fiction writer Zach Walker moves his family from what he sees as the too-dangerous city to a newly-developed suburb called Valley Forest Estates. Walker may write about scary science fiction creatures but in his real life he’s a very cautious person who avoids risks whenever he can. In a bitter twist of irony, he gets drawn into a frightening adventure when he goes to the community’s main sales office one day to lodge a complaint. While he’s there, he witnesses an argument between one of the community’s developers and local eco-activist Samuel Spender. Later, Walker is the one who finds Spender’s body lying in a local creek. Now, despite his best efforts, Walker gets involved in that murder and another one, as well as a case of fraud and corruption. Walker’s cautious nature highlights the irony that adds some ‘life’ and humour to this novel.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, beginning psychologist Stephanie Anderson has to face her own over-cautious self. She’s been cautious and careful – certainly not spontaneous – since her younger sister Gemma was abducted seventeen years earlier. No trace of Gemma was ever found, not even a body. Stephanie’s gone on with her life as best she could, but she’s been cautious and careful, especially about relationships. Then she begins to work with a new patient Elizabeth Clark, who tells her a story that’s eerily like her own. Elizabeth’s younger sister Gracie was abducted several years earlier and in that case too, no trace of the child was ever found. When she really absorbs this story, Anderson decides to lay her own ghosts to rest and look for the person responsible for both girls’ disappearances. Her choice leads her on a trip from Dunedin, where she lives and works, back to Wanaka, where she grew up. Along the way she finds the ability to let go and have an adventure, as well as the courage to face her past. In this novel there’s a clear connection between Anderson’s cautious nature and her past; her personality makes perfect sense and works for the story. So does her evolution as the story goes on.

2013 global reading challenge

What about you? Do you take on adventures? Even if you don’t in your real life, you can in the books you read. How? Let me suggest the 2013 Global Reading Challenge, being hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This challenge invites you to read books from all over the world and gives you the chance to have some adventures without actually being in any danger. Well, unless you count the danger of missing your bus, tram or train stop because you’re caught up in a story. ;-)    Go ‘head – check it out! Find out more information and give it a go. Dare ya!




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Come Sail Away.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Karin Fossum, Kate Atkinson, Linwood Barclay, Paddy Richardson, Sandy Curtis

And I Go Where the Ocean is Deep*

BoatsFor a lot of people there’s something exciting about boats and being on boats. It may be the lure of adventure or it may be the connection with the sea. And of course, there’s the reality that for plenty of people, boats represent their livelihood. Whatever the reason is, we seem to have a fascination with boats and ships. And if you think about it, boats and ships, with their dangers, legends and so on make very effective contexts for crime fiction novels. If you add to that the fact of disparate people being brought together, as can happen on a boat, it’s easy to see how boats and ships could figure into crime fiction. Of course, one post isn’t nearly enough space for me to mention all of the novels where boats and ships figure into the plot, but here are a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, newlyweds Linnet and Simon Doyle are on their honeymoon trip – a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the journey Linnet is shot. The first suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But it’s soon proven that Jackie could not have committed the crime. Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race are on the same cruise and work together to find out who the murderer is. In this novel, it isn’t the actual boating or the ship itself that figures into the crime. Rather, Christie looks at the interactions of the different personalities who are on the same ship at the same time.

So does Ngaio Marsh in A Clutch of Constables. Painter and sculptor Agatha Troy decides to take a cruise on the Zodiac, but she soon finds that this isn’t going to be the relaxing and enjoyable trip she’d planned. First, one of the passengers is left behind and is later found murdered. Then another passenger is drowned. In the meantime and possibly related to the murders, Troy finds that an international art forger known only as the Jampot may very well be among those aboard the ship. As Troy gets more deeply involved in the mystery, she writes letters to her husband Inspector Roderick Alleyn and in them she tells him what’s happened. In an interesting plot strategy, Alleyn uses those letters to share the crimes and their solutions to a group of students in a class he’s teaching.

John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee lives aboard a boat called The Busted Flush. As we learn in The Deep Blue Goodbye, he won the boat in a poker game (hence its name). McGee calls himself a ‘salvage consultant.’ What that really means is that he helps people recover what’s been stolen from them. For instance, in The Deep Blue Goodbye he agrees to track down something that was stolen from his client Catherine Kerr by the father of her son Davie. The big challenge at first is that Kerr’s not even sure what was stolen. McGee finds out what was taken and is able to track down both the stolen property and the thief. McGee takes in payment half of whatever is recovered for his clients and they are usually more than grateful to pay his fee. What’s interesting is that McGee could probably afford to live in a house if he wanted, but he doesn’t. He prefers his boat and his life on the sea. In several places in that novel (and in the other novels in the series too), we see McGee working on his boat. He paints, cleans, makes repairs and so on. That side of him adds depth to the character.

Carole Sutton comes from a family of boat builders, so it’s only natural that her love of boats should come through in her novels. In Ferryman, we meet Steve Pengelly, who moves to Guernsey to start over, as the saying goes. There, he meets Angela DuPont, who connects him with the seller of a beautiful thirty-eight-foot sailboat that Pengelly happily buys. His new life falls apart when Angela disappears and he is arrested and tried for her murder. There’s forensic evidence against him too and he is in fact convicted and imprisoned. Then, two years later, Angela’s body washes ashore. What’s shocking is that it’s proven that she died only a short time before her body was discovered. This means that Pengelly wasn’t guilty of the crime. Now DI Alan Grimstone has to go back to the beginning to find out the truth of the matter.

In Sutton’s And the Devil Laughed, DS Hannah Ford returns to work after taking some leave for post-traumatic stress. She’s assigned to go to Draper’s Wharf on Australia’s Parramata River to investigate possible drugs activity in the area. Posing as a journalist she settles in and begins to get a sense of the place. She soon discovers that there’s been a recent tragedy in town. Local barmaid Victoria Brown was raped and murdered. Her killer hasn’t been caught, so Ford begins to ask questions about the case even though she hasn’t been officially asked to do so. Part of the reason for her interest in the case comes from her desire to prove herself fit for work. Another part comes from the fact that she was distantly related to the victim. As Ford investigates this case as well as the drugs smuggling, we get a real feel for the local boating and boat-building culture.

Boats have long been used for smuggling of course, and we get a real sense of that in Jeffrey Stone’s Play Him Again, which takes place in 1920’s Los Angeles during the years of Prohibition in the U.S.  In that novel we meet Matt ‘Hud’ Hudson, who makes his money smuggling alcohol on his boat The River Belle. His dream is to become a film-maker in the newly-developing Hollywood scene and at the moment, he’s using his smuggling income until he can. When his friend Danny is murdered, Hud decides to find out who the murderer is. He soon finds out though that he’s up against several forces. First, there are rival smuggling groups and a large criminal gang that’s moving into the area. There’s also the fact that the smuggling Hud’s doing is illegal, so the police aren’t going to be co-operative. But Hud keeps looking for answers and he discovers how Danny’s murder is related to the ‘rum-running’ and to the developing film industry. There are plenty of scenes aboard The River Belle in this novel, so we get a chance to see what a boat that’s been refitted for smuggling is like.

Of course more than just about anything else, boats are used for fishing and that’s the focus of Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore. Vigo police inspector Leo Caldas and his team are called in when the body of local fisherman Justo Castelo is discovered. At first it looks as though he committed suicide. But little clues suggest that he might have been murdered, so Caldas and his assistant Rafael Estevez look into the case further. As they find out about Castelo’s background, they discover that Castelo’s murder may be related to a 1996 tragedy in which Castelo and two other fishermen José Arias and Marcos Valverde nearly drowned while they were aboard a fishing vessel. Their captain Antonio Sousa did drown and none of the survivors has been the same since then. Caldas and Estevez have to learn exactly what happened that night to get to the truth about Castelo’s death. This novel shows readers what the fisherman’s life is like, from early-morning fish markets to sudden and terrible storms to building and maintaining fishing boats.

We also see the fishing life depicted in Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide. Alan ‘Tug’ Bretton is the captain of Sea Mistress, a trawler based in Brisbane. He’s accused of murdering Ewan McKay, the deckhand from another boat. Bretton claims that he’s innocent, but all of the evidence is against him. There’s also a possibility that Bretton and Sea Mistress may be connected to the drugs trade. Bretton’s daughter Samantha ‘Sam’ believes her father is innocent and she wants to find out who killed McKay. Besides, if the family-owned trawler doesn’t go out to sea, the ship may be lost to creditors. So Bretton reluctantly turns the skipper position over to his daughter. Sam begins both to start the fishing season and to try to find out who killed Ewan McKay. What she doesn’t know is that Chayse Jarrett, the deckhand she’s just hired, is an undercover cop who’s been assigned to the McKay murder too. As the two of them, first separately and later together, investigate the murder, we also see what it’s like to live on and operate a fishing trawler.

Whether they’re used for work, sport, relaxation or smuggling, boats and boating have been an essential part of our lives for millennia. Their fascination still lures a lot of people. Do you see the appeal? I know I’ve probably not mentioned the boat-related crime novels you like best because there’s not enough space to mention them all. So now it’s your turn. Which gaps have I left?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Downeaster ‘Alexa.’


Filed under Agatha Christie, Carole Sutton, Domingo Villar, Jeffrey Stone, John D. MacDonald, Ngaio Marsh, Sandy Curtis

In The Spotlight: Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide

Hello, All,

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


Filed under Deadly Tide, Sandy Curtis