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It is no secret that I did not produce my first full length book until the age of forty. Mind you, I had published rather a lot before then, starting from my late teens, when I wrote science fiction for American magazines, and short stories for the Maori magazine "Te Ao Hou" under the pen name "Jo Friday," and then travel stories for New Zealand magazines, under my own name. However, I was mostly involved in teaching biology and English literature, and raising our two sons, Lindsay and Alastair.
Then I was approached by a publisher with the idea of writing a book about the introduction of plants and animals to New Zealand -- how they were carried here in the sailing ship era, and how they failed or thrived. The result was "Exotic Intruders." Not only had I enjoyed writing the stories of the eccentric sailing ship captains and passengers who had carried such items as birds, fish eggs, racehorses, and deer through the tropics and southern ocean storms, but the book won a couple of prizes -- the Hubert Church Award and the PEN Award for Best First Book of Prose. All very encouraging.
Then, on one of my quests for a travel story, I fell into a hole on the tropical island of Rarotonga, found the longlost grave of a whaling wife at the bottom, and a passion for researching the lives of captains' wives under sail was born. A Fulbright Award sent me to New England and Hawaii, and so "Abigail," "She Was a Sister Sailor," and "Petticoat Whalers" were written, the second of these winning the prestigious John Lyman Award for Best Book of American Maritime History in 1992.
Since then, I have become equally fascinated with the stories of the adventurous Polynesians who shipped on board sailing ships--American whaling ships, in particular. I so I came to the story of Tupaia, the astonishing Tahitian who sailed with Captain James Cook and the naturalist, Joseph Banks ... and to my fictional half-Maori sleuth, the inimitable Wiki Coffin.
on Dec. 26, 2012 :
I really enjoyed the return of Wiki Coffin and thoroughly recommend this book.
Joan Druett writes an excellent story, and the Expedition "family" of characters is becoming cosily familiar (or dead). Sustained excitement prevails, with the usual colourful mix of ship talk, locations, technical details, and historical context.
Approximately 130 pages made this a quick read (sadly), but it was all linked nicely in the text to the previous episodes, giving it depth. PDF download was easy to print as a "booklet", giving it book form, once assembled (easy).
4 and a half stars - wish it was longer!
(reviewed 10 days after purchase)
on Dec. 24, 2012 :
Joan Druett's The Beckoning Ice, the fifth in her series of Wiki Coffin nautical mysteries, begins in 1839, on the sealer Betsey of Stonington, homeward bound from "a short but very profitable season far south of Cape Horn." The schooner is very nearly wrecked on a massive iceberg, which looms suddenly out of the fog. The terror of nearly hitting the ice island is only made worse by the corpse of a man, apparently bludgeoned to dead, frozen on a ledge on the face of the ice.
The Betsey later crosses the course of the small flotilla of ships, brigs and schooners of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, a joint naval and scientific venture sent to chart the Pacific to help promote American trade. When the sealers report the apparent murder, Wiki Coffin is called to investigate, which will not be immediately easy to do, as the expedition is bound for Orange harbor in Tierra del Fuego. Soon Wiki will also have to investigate the suspicious suicide of a young naval lieutenant as well as avoiding several attempts on his own life. While performing his other duties and coping with bigotry and misunderstanding in the small fleet, Wiki must untangle the skein of secrets and alliances that result in the death of the young officer while evading the determined killers that threaten his own survival.
I am of the opinion that a murder mystery is only as good as the detective created to solve it. Joan Druett has created a marvelous detective in Wiki Coffin. The son of a wealthy ship's captain and a Maori women from the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, he serves as the expedition's "linguister," which is to say a translator and language specialist. He was also duly deputized by the sheriff of Portsmouth, Virginia as an agent of law for the expedition. He the classic man of several worlds, able to understand both cultures yet as an outsider often capable of seeing what others do not.
Druett's choice of the U.S. Exploring Expedition is also inspired. The expedition was rife with conflicts between and amongst the naval officers and the "scientifics," the civilian scientists brought along to make observations and to record expedition data. Jealousy, paranoia, ambition and the clash of egos provides the perfect backdrop for murder and intrigue. Druett based a number of her characters and some of the plot conflicts on the historical records and diaries kept during the expedition.
The Beckoning Ice is part nautical adventure, part murder mystery, and part thriller, as well as thoroughly researched historical fiction. A multi-award winning nautical historian and novelist, Joan Druett brings a historian's eye for detail and a novelists imagination, sense of character, plot and pacing to the novel. The tension only keeps building and the actions never waivers. The Beckoning Ice is a marvelous read. Highly recommended.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)