Ambitious but ultimately tepid Chesapeake Bay eco-thriller.
Debut novelist Smith’s book is something of a gumbo: one part concise essays promoting marine conservation, one part brief lesson in migration biology, one part old-fashioned mystery. The most flavorful component is the mystery–spiced as it is with romantic intrigue, damsels in distress and evil double-crossers–but the mixture lacks a few essential ingredients, including fiery plot twists and a solid sense of believability. The story centers on David Tanaki, a Japanese American biologist specializing in migration. Eschewing academia, Tanaki works as an itinerant researcher who bounces from post to post, possibly to avoid a troubled past. This time, he accepts a position with a Chesapeake Bay research station where he will study the movement of species in the Bay, especially that of the American eel. At the station, Tanaki encounters an eclectic collection of mostly-engaging characters: a suspiciously taciturn and controlling boss; a hard-nosed attorney with a passion for the environment (and briefly, Tanaki himself); a sexy and driven Native-American activist protesting the development of her ancestral land; and the most imaginative of the bunch, the Yamaguchi sisters, Japanese heiresses who run the Chesapeake branch of their family’s fishing fleet and practice a mysterious religion. Smith tenuously weaves throughout the narrative flashbacks to the bizarre demise of a past love affair, and the brief but tedious treatises on migration and the fragility of the ecosystem slow the plot. Finally, in the last 50 pages, the narrative accelerates, only to be derailed again as Smith takes a far-fetched turn en route to the finale.
Smith draws colorful characters, but an implausible plot sinks this idealistic, marine-based eco-thriller.