In this novel, scuba diver Olsen (The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories, 2012, etc.) takes readers from a shipwreck 200 years ago to a present-day tale of greed, political intrigue, and mayhem.
The story starts with a rousing sea battle in 1806 that sees the fearsome French warship Imperial destroyed, sunk by the British off small Charming Island in the Caribbean. In the aftermath, an impressed American seaman, Reginald “Reggie” V. Wilson, is murdered by a French sailor named Francois Javert. Fast-forward 150 years to young Warren Wilson in Minnesota, whose family lore tells of Reggie’s murder. Warren becomes fascinated with scuba diving, even after (or perhaps because of) the drowning of his older brother, Steven, in 1955, after he saved Warren’s life. Warren narrowly escapes a financial scam but comes out of it with a boat that he renames Esteban. He becomes a dive captain on Charming Island, where he lives a rough life, save for his lover, Rosa, and her son, Armando. He’s indebted to a fat man named, yes, Javert, who comes off as a kind of Caribbean Jabba the Hutt. Warren (now known as “Captain Will”) is apolitical, but a vote is looming for the Charming Islanders. Will they remain a tiny British commonwealth or choose independence? For his own nefarious reasons, Javert is pushing for independence, and he hires a true supervillain named Wesley Bens for his cause. All of this climaxes in a suitably white-knuckle fashion, as good guys seek to triumph over bad. Olsen can turn a good phrase (‘narcissism became both his cancer and his chemo,” he writes at one point about Warren) and he gives his characters each the attention that he or she deserves. The plot is also well-paced, and Olsen keeps the twists coming: for example, some Cuban commandos show up, and Captain Will gets support from his old scuba instructor, Freddie-the-Frogman; his old love, Ruth Van Dorn; and a Texas couple, the Whites, who are initially obnoxious but eventually heroic, as redemption is a major theme of the book.
A thriller that offers a good read for a week at the beach.