GHOST SHIPS IN DEADMAN’S SHOAL
After what I considered two very poorly structured predecessors, this fourth entry in MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn series returns to the quality that I experienced in the first book. Her characterizations of the main protagonists have returned to a level that can be both believed and respected. And she has, this time, been able to more seamlessly integrate the murder mystery with the island’s history and with the daily trials and tribulations of our protagonists’ lives.
Natalie and John are now engaged and have joined together to turn the Gray Whale Inn from a bed-and-breakfast into a full-service hotel. Natalie has been coerced into judging the highly political annual cranberry cook-off to be held in about a week. And Adam, the lobsterman boyfriend of Natalie’s niece, Gwen, has discovered the curved timber of a long-lost vessel caught in his traps. Within a few days two competing salvage crews have descended on both the site of the shipwreck and the Inn.
One group is a team of marine archeologists from the local university and has been called in by Adam. The other group is a team of commercial treasure hunters from out of state who were contacted surreptitiously by Adam’s hired hand. Due to the ruthless mercenary intent and site destruction favored by the commercial salvors, the two teams have a contentious history. Within two days, one of the partners in the commercial team is dead, stabbed in the back with a curved blade and left floating near the site of the shipwreck.
There is no dearth of people with reasons to hate the dead man. Both of his partners as well as the two researchers from the university have ample reason to want Gerald dead. But it is a local boatwright who is jailed after the authorities find the centuries-old cutlass with which he publically threatened the man. The cutlass has the boatwright’s fingerprints on it and he found the body without any witnesses present.
Putting little stock in the possible motives of the other people involved in the salvage operation, the police essentially close the case. So Natalie and John begin investigating on their own in hopes of providing sufficient evidence for Eleazer’s lawyer to present a defense of reasonable doubt. Now, if Natalie would just learn to leave a note or tell someone where she is going every time she walks out the door, her chances of ferreting out the bad guy while avoiding head injuries and an early grave would greatly improve!
MacInerney expertly weaves the techniques and legalities of marine salvage into the plot. She writes an implied but subdued sexual element into the story with no scenes more heated than a long hug and a kiss on the top of the head. She crafts an intricate mystery of motives, means and opportunity and a blood-chilling denouement of that mystery. And she makes you believe that Maine’s equivalent of the Black Pearl is alive and well.
Cover Art from Goodreads