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A Watery Grave by Joan Druett
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  1. 00
    Sea of Glory : America's voyage of discovery : The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: A very readable non-fiction account of the US Exploratory Expedition which is the background to this Joan Druett series of mystery novels.

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When I saw on the back cover of Druett's wonderful Island of the Lost that she had written a "maritime mystery series," I knew I had to snap up at least the first one. This first one is more maritime than mystery, but I enjoyed it and will keep reading even though a lot of the seafaring lingo goes right by me. The series features Wiki Coffin, half Maori but raised in the US since he was 12 by his American captain father. He ran off to sea himself as a teenager, and now finds himself as the "linguister" on the US Exploring Expedition that, in the early 1830s, offered scientists of various kinds the opportunity to explore the oceans of the world. Right before the expedition sets off, Wiki is wrongfully arrested for the murder of a woman whose husband is to be one of the astronomers on the trip; the sheriff then deputizes Wiki (because he's impressed by his reasoning and investigative skills) to continue the investigation on the ships that make up the expedition. Danger stalks the ships, not least because the murderer wants to get rid of the people who were in on the plot, and Wiki has to contend with people who consider him less than them because of his half-Maori background. Some of the most interesting parts of this books dealt with Wiki's interactions with other seamen from the South Pacific. In the end, Wiki wins over a captain who had been tyrannical and prejudiced and, with much excitement, solves the mystery and saves the day.
  rebeccanyc | Sep 11, 2015 |
Wiki Coffin has been appointed as linguister for the U.S. South Seas Exploring Expedition. Wiki is the illegitimate son of an American ship captain and a Maori woman, and he can converse in several Polynesian languages. Wiki's good friend, George Rochester, will captain one of the expedition's ships. Wiki's discovery of a woman's body just as he should be boarding his ship threatens to leave him stranded in Virginia. Once the sheriff is convinced that Wiki didn't murder the woman, he enlists Wiki's help to discover the murderer among the fellow members of the expedition.

I enjoyed this unusual mystery even though I occasionally had to suspend my disbelief. It's as much historical adventure as historical mystery, and the adventure worked better for me than the mystery. The murderer was obvious to me from the beginning, and I was never distracted by the few red herrings offered along the way. Before I continue with the series I'd like to learn a bit more about the expedition. The members of the expedition were continually shuffled between the expedition's ships, and that seemed odd to me. I'd like to find out if that really was characteristic of the expedition or if the author took liberties with this. In order for the plot to work, Wiki needed to interact with men assigned to different vessels. The book ends on a cliffhanger that seems to lead to the next book in the series. Fortunately my public library has the next book! ( )
  cbl_tn | Nov 17, 2014 |
This novel is a little Patrick O’Brian (seafaring adventure) meets Robert Van Gulik (exotic foreign detective protagonist) meets Bruce Alexander (period mystery), and succeeds on multiple levels: as a seafaring adventure, as a historical novel, as an anthropological/sociologic study, and (though to a somewhat lesser degree) as a mystery.

The plot centers on an authentic historical event – an 1838 U.S. expedition of exploration through the Pacific. Naturalists, astronomers, geographers, etc. were stuffed aboard a convoy of ships and sent forth to discover new lands and new civilizations. (For whatever reason, they never got Lewis & Clark’s press!) The novel’s half-caste protagonist, Wiki Coffin (native New Zealand Maori mother, famous American sea captain father) is hired onto the expedition as a linguist. Just one problem: literally hours before the convoy is set to sail, the wife of one of the expeditions’ “scientifics” is murdered. The local sheriff, convinced the culprit is one of the men shipping out, deputizes Wiki to try to discover the murderer.

Joan Druett, our intrepid author, has obviously read her Hornblower, for this tale is crammed with painstakingly authentic detail about ships, the men who sail them, and the lives they live at sea. If you aren’t a Patrick O’Brian fan (which I’m not) you may find this level of detail unnecessarily distracting, but Druett’s prose was crisp and fresh enough to keep me interested. Meanwhile, in between storms and scuppers, capricious captains and gun drills, Wiki battles envy, resentment, ignorance, racism, and malfeasance in order to conduct his investigation.

Loved the seafaring detail, loved the history, loved the anthropology – about the only thing I didn’t love about this novel was the mystery! It’s one of those puzzles that depends on fastidious attention to detail and complex timelines; not only is it hard to keep track of all clues, but the players in the drama are so lacking in redeeming qualities that it’s hard to muster up the energy to care who killed who. Fortunately, however, I was so entertained by the character of Wiki and all that swashbuckling that I was willing to overlook this one lapse. I understand that this is meant to be the first book in a series: I can definitely see myself giving book #2 a read. ( )
1 vote Dorritt | Sep 3, 2012 |
Wiki Coffin, a part-Maori native who immigrated to the United States in his preteen years, is accused of murder shortly before he is to depart as linguister on a Naval voyage. He is deputized to find the true killer who is likely aboard one of the ships in the voyage. The plot was fairly predictable as far as the mystery is concerned. Although the book is very readable, there are parts of it where the plot seems to bog down. There are a few scenes which don't really seem to add that much to the plot and a few which seem rather "fantastic" that such a thing would occur with a Naval voyage. The book was based on a real voyage although the author took quite a few liberties with it as she described in the author's note at the book's beginning. I think my favorite parts of the book are those which describe elements of Wiki's Maori heritage. This book was selected for me by my "Secret Santa" for SantaThing 2009. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jan 30, 2010 |
An easy to read tale of murder on land and intrigue and adventure at sea this novel set in early 19th Century America is well written. ( )
  bibliaugrapher | Aug 18, 2009 |
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The man who was about to be wrongfully arrested waited in the black shadow of a tree by the Elizabeth River.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312334427, Paperback)

Plotting a mystery series around the 1838-42 United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, a famous, though scandalized scientific voyage of half a dozen ships from Virginia to "the far side of the world," is such a brilliant idea, it's a wonder that nobody thought of it before. Fortunately, the task has now been taken up by New Zealand nautical historian Joan Druett.

In A Watery Grave, she introduces us to William "Wiki" Coffin Jr., the illegitimate, 24-year-old, half-Maori son of a New England sea captain, who has reluctantly enlisted with this expedition as a "linguister." Even before he boards the brig Swallow, "a weatherly little craft" and the fictional seventh vessel in this convoy, Wiki lands in trouble. While waiting on a moonlit Virginia riverbank to fight a duel, he's caught in a burst of rifle fire, aimed at a small boat in which is later found the corpse of Ophelia Stanton, the wealthy and supposedly suicidal daughter-in-law of a plantation owner. After clearing himself of complicity in the crime, Wiki, encouraged by a local sheriff, pursues better suspects. At the top of the list is Ophelia's husband, Tristan, an astronomer with the expedition, who was reportedly spotted in their house at the time of her slaying. However, others claim that Tristan was, instead, far away, entertaining a crowd of navy men. As the fleet departs for points east, this case remains unsolved, but Wiki keeps his eyes open, sure that the killer is along on the voyage--a fear soon supported by additional dubious deaths and disappearances.

Druett, best known now for her 2003 nonfiction book, In the Wake of Madness, shows in A Watery Grave both her knowledge of 19th-century sailing ships (look especially for her details about how to fire cannons) and her understanding of the closed, often jealous male societies they contained. Yet the history and real-life characters incorporated here (including mercurial fleet commander Charles Wilkes) never overshadow her wholly satisfying mystery plot. After seeing the eccentric but able Wiki Coffin face such adversities at sea, one can only wonder what more colorful finds and crimes await him as he makes landfall at Antarctica and the Pacific islands in future installments of this series. If Rafael Sabatini (Captain Blood) had experimented with crime fiction, A Watery Grave might well have been the result. --J. Kingston Pierce

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:44 -0400)

Full of the evocative maritime detail and atmosphere that have won her numerous awards for her non-fiction, Joan Druett's 'A Watery Grave' is the mystery debut of a masterful writer. Linguist Wiki Coffin is on board the Exploring Expedition to try and identify a killer and bring him to justice.… (more)

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