In Matison’s debut novel, a deep-sea diver is killed after stumbling upon the wreckage of an old ship carrying valuable gemstones, inciting an international legal battle.
Harris Blake, a onetime professor of marine biology, abandons his academic post to deep-sea dive for treasure off the Florida coast. His wife, Brandy, bankrolls his risky hunts, and his trusty business partner, Thad Stuart, shares his appetite for adventure. It’s a relatively fruitless operation, until Harris finds himself nearly 500 feet below international waters. There, the wreckage of a long-forgotten ship, Byzantium, reveals a trove of emerald gemstones. Shortly after his discovery, however, he’s found dead. A grieving Brandy moves herself and her young daughter to her grandmother’s house in New Orleans, where she begins the lengthy process of tidying up her late husband’s estate. But instead of finding closure, Brandy and her lawyers discover that the gemstones are valued at millions of dollars and that their ownership is up for dispute. As news of the fortune spreads, forces on either side of the Atlantic conspire against Brandy, revealing a larger criminal conspiracy that could explain her husband’s death. When Harris’ once-loyal partner bids against Brandy’s claim, she realizes that there are many sharks above water, including hungry-eyed insurance brokers in London, bounty seekers in the Caribbean and ruthless assassins working for hire. Soon, she enlists the help of a boutique New Orleans law firm to win reparations that she believes are rightfully hers. Matison sets up an international legal procedural with believable villains, and her dialogue deftly shoulders the burden of explaining difficult legal jargon. However, the chapters alternate between Brandy’s perspective and those of others, including that of Raleigh, a precocious garden squirrel who has the ability to communicate in human speech. (Raleigh is the companion of Brandy’s grandmother, a lonely woman who confides in the creature over games of checkers.) The inclusion of this unusual animal hampers the otherwise engrossing proceedings, which include depositions fraught with tension and an intricate kidnapping subplot. Aside from these regular interruptions, the novel shines as a high-stakes legal drama that entwines the fates of Brandy and her family with those of other stakeholders.
An often satisfying marriage of legal thriller and police procedural.