Everyone’s favorite seafaring half-caste Polynesian sleuth must rescue his father from a murder charge.
His third case finds Wiki Coffin aboard a fleet of ships headed for Brazil in 1838, commanded by quirky and bombastic Captain Charles Wilkes. Comic complications and unsettling racist views bubble up over the sharing of rooms, made more difficult by the illness of Astronomer Grimes. When ship’s doctor Grisham suggests that Grimes might be a victim of poisoning, the naturalist Dr. Olliver offers herbal remedies. Some colleagues from Wiki’s previous exploits (Shark Island, 2005, etc.) are aboard, including merciless Lieutenant Forsythe and the cook Festin, who was acquitted of poisoning on a previous voyage; some members of this new crew assume Festin poisoned Grimes in a vain attempt to kill him, but the vain part is disproved when Grimes dies. Though an inquest rules that the death was accidental, Wiki, who isn’t so sure, begins asking unobtrusively pointed questions. He’s unexpectedly reunited with his swashbuckling father, Captain William Coffin, who’s helming a trading ship. When Dr. Olliver is killed, suspicion falls on the flamboyant father who never took much interest or pride in his son, and Wiki shifts his investigative focus. On the way to a solution, he also finds time for an affair with the demure Josefa.
Shades of Patrick O’Brian live in Druett’s interesting historical details, local color and suggested reading list. The whodunit’s not bad, either.