Written by Mark Douglas-Home – Mark Douglas-Home is a writer of outstanding reputation. As a journalist he has garnered the kind of status that most hacks dream of, culminating in a tenure as editor of Scotland’s Herald newspaper.
The Sea Detective is his first foray in to crime fiction, and yet his journalistic skills are used as a strong conduit for the original and intricate plot that he explores.
The story follows his protagonist, PHD student Cal McGill, an oceanographer and ecologist-come-detective. McGill’s passion is for tidal currents, and when training shoes complete with severed feet begin washing up on Scotland’s shoreline, McGill becomes involved in the investigation, leaping at the chance to deploy his professional skills.
Things soon spiral, however, and McGill becomes embroiled in several subplots. While campaigning to bring polluters to justice he is approached by a Bengalese teenager looking to avenge her friend’s death. Cal’s soon up to his neck in trying to expose an international paedophile ring while at the same time embarking on a personal quest to solve a genealogical mystery.
Douglas-Home shifts the narrative from the murder investigation to Bengal, to Cal’s quest to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s World War II death. None of it seems forced or laboured, however. The author’s journalistic qualities and pithy style really raises the standard of writing throughout. Cal’s expertise is never in doubt, with the author taking time to explain the specialist knowledge of flotsam and jetsam while flitting between plotlines and settings with ease.
Some readers might find the multiple plot lines and slow pace of the early chapters a challenge. There are twists and turns throughout, most of which we don’t see coming, but the last third of the novel really benefits from an injection of pace and an excellent twist in the tail. The Sea Detective is a slow burner, sure. But it’s also beautifully written in places and expertly constructed.
CFL Rating: 3 stars