A young man known to his Maori relatives as Wiki Kehua and to his American ones as William Coffin Jr. finds himself in hot water on August 18, 1838, the day the US South Seas Exploring Expedition sets sail.
Wiki Coffin lived on his native island until his father, an American sea captain, came back to claim him when Wiki was 12. In New England, Wiki discovers a great facility with languages, attends college, and then takes to the sea on merchant ships for adventure. His closest friend, Captain George Rochester, recruits Wiki as the official “linguister” (or translator, an important role for an expedition bound for the South Seas), a choice Rochester regrets when the sheriff takes Wiki into custody for the murder of Mrs. Tristram Stanton, the wife of one of the Expedition’s “scientifics.” Although Mrs. Stanton, the wealthiest woman in Virginia, hysterically objected to her husband’s intention to sail, the widower has an unbreakable alibi, something Wiki, found at the scene of the crime, lacks. Nonetheless, the sheriff, coming to see Wiki’s innocence and usefulness, deputizes him. The rest of the action takes place on the high seas with Wiki investigating the murder and serving on the crew.
The debut of a smart, appealing hero whose tale unfolds amid lots of interesting cross-cultural, historical, and nautical detail, the least compelling of which is the mystery.