The pursuit of a daring thief takes Wiki Coffin through a flock of fascinating historical footnotes, in the latest from Druett (Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, 2007, etc.).
Off the coast of Patagonia in early 1839, the U.S. brig Swallow barely escapes a fracas with the whaling ship Trojan after the latter misinterprets a friendly message and fires a shot. After a rapprochement is reached, the whaler’s frazzled captain, Wilkes, tells the sad story of being scammed by Caleb Adams, a trader who made off with both his schooner and the lion’s share of his money. Captain Rochester of the Swallow recommends his multitalented linguist Wiki Coffin to track Adams down, and the Maori sleuth is off on his fourth adventure. Well-served by his knowledge of the South-American gauchos and their customs, Wiki methodically follows Adams’s trail. He meets a legion of quirky characters, both among the natives and in the ranks of those he’s been chosen to lead, including his counterparts under Wilkes’s command, pompous naturalist Titian Peale and rugged philologist Horatio Hale. The discovery of a storekeeper’s corpse, only days dead, adds murder to the list of Adams’s alleged crimes and ramps up the tension. On the way to a solution, Wiki must deal with cocky Samoan seamen, a near-mutiny over sauerkraut and, yet again, his bull-in-a-china-shop dad.
Fascinating tidbits come left and right, and Druett’s prose gains vigor with every volume.