A San Francisco State academic searches for Sir Francis Drake’s log books.
When Ethan Storey’s girlfriend Kay, a property-rights lawyer, drags him to an open house at the Willems Institute, he’s bored until the resident curator, Karen Molina, suggests that he might take on archivist duties cataloging the collection of 15th- and 16th-century volumes. No sooner is the ink dry on his confidentiality agreement than he suspects that lurking somewhere in the collection are the log books in which Sir Francis Drake documented his quest for the Northwest Passage. If found, they may lead to the location of a brass plaque left behind claiming the territory for Queen Elizabeth. A plaque unearthed in the 1930s proved to be fake, but the real one may still be out there. Unfortunately, a feud between two families has interfered with the search for generations; the hostilities even drew Ethan’s late father into the fray. Just when Ethan thinks he’s making headway, an Iowa scholar is murdered, the Institute succumbs to an arsonist, hints are dropped of World War II Nazi espionage and Kay’s professional and sexual loyalties come into question. Ethan must ride out the storm, literally and figuratively, aboard his father’s hand-built boat, the Drake, until another job beckons, this one involving the same sort of derring-do his father undertook for the Feds.
Roberts (Shy Moon, 1989, etc.) knows his way around incunabula, boats, the California coastline and relationships floundering in secrets. He’s less persuasive when it comes to Nazi meddling.