The escapism of sailing thrillers can be a real draw, especially over the holiday period. Julia Jones reviews some of the latest releases
Although cruising yarns can be as engrossing as adventure fiction – with the added ingredient of truthfulness – I do sometimes long for the unashamed escapism of a thriller or detective fiction, especially around holiday time.
So, what does one look for – gripping plot, intriguing characterisation, vividly described location, good writing combined with the vital ingredient of un-put-downableness.
There are plenty on the market. But what if one wants sailing as well? Suddenly the choice narrows.
William Shaw’s The Trawlerman has been highly recommended by crime fiction writers, two of whom have recently included it in their books of the year.
Encouraged by this I made the elementary blunder of buying it for its title and cover without looking hard inside.
It’s an excellent evocation of an odd community around Dungeness. It has good dialogue, lively characters and nicely unexpected plot twists (possibly too many?)
There’s an interesting take on PTSD and the brain’s reaction to abuse.
It scored well on un-put-downableness but there was almost no time spent at sea.
Capsize by David Kusher offered the lure of a ‘Scandi-noir’ thriller combined with a slightly preposterous plot involving weapons-grade plutonium being hidden in the spare keel of a billionaire’s racing yacht.
It felt promising: thrillers are allowed to be preposterous and this one also included a traumatised former racing skipper, his Jewish son, implacably hostile grandparents and a statuesque Swedish policewoman to provide the love interest.
There was a promising cast of villains and the action moved energetically round the globe but, somehow, as far as I was concerned it didn’t work.
At over 500 pages a story must be gripping to persuade the arm muscles to carry on holding up the book. About halfway through, mine gave up.
The quality of the writing and the interest of the characters were insufficient – though I did skip to take a glimpse of the ending and liked the way the plutonium was finally disposed of.
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The Shetland Sea Murders
The Shetland Sea Murders by Marsali Taylor is indisputably focused on sailing.
The series heroine, Cas Lynch, owns an 8m yacht which is also her home. This is the 9th book in an established series which has offered Lynch a range of opportunities to sail on interesting vessels other than her own.
This story opens with a charter group spending a long weekend on Swan, a real converted fishing vessel from the great days of the herring trade in Lerwick.
All too soon their excursion is disrupted by VHF reports of a shipwreck – and subsequently two, apparently unrelated murders.
Fans of the Ann Cleeve Shetland Mysteries will have no difficulty taking a double-murder in their stride but the islanders themselves like to point out that Shetland is a very peaceful place with an exceptionally low crime rate.
There’s no denying that it offers a great location.
Marsali Taylor has made her home there and is clearly fascinated by its language and traditions, there’s even a ‘Shetlan’ glossary at the end of the book.
Taylor is a teacher by profession and I did wonder occasionally whether the level of explanation might affect the pace of the tale.
However she’s also a regular contributor to our sister magazine, Practical Boat Owner, and details such as the heroine’s reluctance to bring an end to the sailing season by taking her mast down were spot-on.
Although the books in the series are free-standing, I suspected I was missing some depth of interest by not having begun at the beginning.
Book one Death of a Longship was published in 2014 and even since I made my belated start, there has been a new addition to the series, number 10, A Shetland Winter Mystery.
Plenty of potential holiday season reading therefore – but I’d still appreciate readers’ recommendations for top-notch nautical thrillers or detective novels.
The Gilded Murder
The Gilded Murder is the second in a series featuring an older couple, Matthew and Martha, both comfortably widowed, who are wondering whether to take the plunge into matrimony again.
The concept of the book is promising – locate a murder mystery in Newport, Rhode Island when the stately Herreshoff-designed yachts Columbia and Defender prepare to defend the America’s Cup.
As Newport society takes to the water, and spectators from outside arrive, there’s rich potential for confrontation and unexpected grudges from the past.
Some of these unresolved issues date from the American Civil War.
Regrettably as a lover of detective fiction I found the plotting and investigation somewhat uninspired.
The author, T.R. Rankin is a Rhode Island resident and it may be that this book would be read more successfully in its home waters.
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Visit the Yachting Monthly Book Club for more of the best sailing books released this year.
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